Amritpal Singh's second coming: Former India captain turns a dark corner
Once India's finest young talent, Amritpal has had a career-threatening injury and a doping ban in the last few years. At the ongoing National Basketball Championships, he is back - slam-dunking his team to the top of the table.
Punjab have been dominating the ongoing 71st Senior National Basketball Championships in Chennai. Their unstoppable trio - captain Amritpal Singh, Amjyot Singh and the latest NBA recruit from India, Princepal Singh - helped them crush Gujarat and Kerala in the first two days. At the end of Day 2, Punjab had the highest point differential of 84 points.
For captain Amritpal, now 31, just getting the chance to be back on the court doing alley-oops with his teammates feels like a second chance. Born in a family of farmers, Amritpal had been known as one of India's best hoopsters since his international debut in 2011. But over the last four years, little has gone his way.
Just when he seemed to have put the career-threatening ACL injury sustained just before the 2018 Commonwealth Games behind him, NADA slapped a one year-ban on him in 2020 for consuming 'terbutaline'. Now back playing basketball, he sat down with the Bridge to talk about developments in Indian basketball after the pandemic and his own career.
Just before the interview, Amritpal ended a video call with his relatives. He was also watching Uttarakhand's match, for whom current Indian captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi plays. Amritpal and Vishesh share a good relationship and have been in the Indian camp together for a long time.
Q. How do you feel to be back at the Nationals after a gap of two years?
It feels really good. In 2019, we played after our last tournament in Ludhiana. I'm playing at the nationals for the third time in a row. We will try our best to be the champions again. Our team has many young, exciting players.
Q. You said you were a kabaddi player before you came into basketball. Tell us about your transition from one game to another.
I used to play kabaddi till the age of 17, which is the local game of Punjab. After that, my mama ji introduced me to a coach who suggested that I play basketball because of my height. Then I went to Ludhiana to train under Dr Subramanium at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy. My interest in the game grew, and in just 1 or 1.5 years, I was part of the Indian senior team.
Q. It's becoming quite a busy season for you. You just played in the 3BL and now the Nationals. Are you having any kind of fatigue?
No, I don't have any fatigue issues as of now.
There are too few championships in basketball anyway, so there has been lack of exposure for our players. With more tournaments happening, Indian players will get more game time. There is no professional league for 5v5, but in 3v3 we have 3BL. Many players are getting an excellent platform to showcase their talent. Even we are getting good competition, matches are becoming tougher.
Q. You had an ACL injury that sidelined you for a long time, and you said that your game has slowed down since then. So how have you managed to play 3v3 since it is way faster than 5v5? Do you think you can recover your speed soon?
I mean, yes, it is happening slowly. Age matters a lot as well. I'm 31 right now. When you are young, you can run more, you have the energy, later you have more experience. 3-on-3 is a fast game, I'm trying my best there.
Q. You played an international game after a long time this year, and it took time for you to settle back in. Are you still looking to take some time before you get back to form?
Yes, firstly because of COVID and then because of some personal problems I was not part of the team. It was after three years that I played for India in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup. I'm trying to get back to my rhythm.
Q. You faced a doping ban two years ago. How were you feeling at that point in time?
I had prescriptions for medicines given by my doctor. So I was advised to take a de-cough syrup for cough and cold. I did not know the contents of the medication, and us players were also not provided guidance about what medicines we should take.
When there are such allegations against athletes, it tends to affect you mentally. I'm thankful that my friends from the department and the team helped me stay strong. This is all is part of the game though.
Q. It was like you stopped being part of basketball entirely...
Yes, because the decision process took a long time. I knew I would face a ban, but I did not know the duration. So until the verdict was not out, I couldn't plan things. But my friends and family supported me during that time, and hopefully, koi problem nai hui.
Q. One of the biggest positives in Indian basketball in the past couple of years has been Princepal Singh's entry into NBA. Your thoughts on that?
Princepal is an outstanding player. In addition to having played in the NBL in Australia, he has won the G-League. He has an excellent potential to take India to the next level. This is a good sign for India and Punjab because, after Satnam, he is the second player to go to the NBA. He has opened the doors for us Indian players and brought a lot of attention to our country.