No longer the 'underdogs' | By Arshpreet Bhullar
"I never really liked when someone said ‘India are the underdogs in this tournament.’ It kind of feels like we just got lucky," Arshpreet says.
I get asked all the time now to give a date.
When will India make it to the Olympics?
It seems like a simple question to answer. After all, I have been preparing all my life in one way or the other for that day. But still, I just can’t answer the question in one sentence.
For one, it's just not my dream but every sports player has a dream to go play in the Olympics and represent their country and that is what we have been striving for since the day one.
Next year’s 3x3 Olympic qualification tournament which will be held here in India will be a very important step for us. I think we are getting closer to what we want to do.
See, when I started out, nobody in the country knew much about basketball. Slowly, with the NBA coming into India, the sport gained popularity. With more people playing it now and our performances at the international stage going up also, people know about us more. Now that the leagues are also here, it's helpful for us as we can see each other play and learn.
Hopefully, we'll get the necessary coverage on social media and that should help us promote the sport. It's a growing sport at this point.
But we are not underdogs anymore. I never really liked when someone said ‘India are the underdogs in this tournament.’ It kind of feels like we just got lucky, you know… like we did not compete, grow as individuals and as a team to get where we are today.
We are not ‘underdogs’ when it comes to qualifying for the Olympics. Like NBA games in India was a big affair so will India's qualification in the Olympics be a historic event in itself. It'll be huge for every one of us in the team.
I follow LeBron James.
“You can't be afraid to fail. It's the only way you succeed - you're not gonna succeed all the time, and I know that.”
This is what he said and what I live by.
The best way to prepare mentally is to ensure that I don't lose focus. I know how to play, plan ahead and beat the team we are playing against. It's important to make these goals in your minds before stepping on the court.
You need to be focussed at all times and for that, you need to be physically fit as well. And when you are focussed, you never think of failure. You are only thinking, ‘I’m gonna rip the opposition apart.’
I started playing basketball when I was in the 9th standard. My elder brother, who is 5 years elder to me, would also play basketball and I would go with him to the ground and slowly, slowly while watching him, I started playing basketball. That was the start for me.
Sport runs in my family. My grandfather was a discus thrower, so was my dad. I think I get my ‘rip him apart’ attitude comes from my dad.
When I had started off, obviously my focus was more on basketball and my studies were getting neglected. My parents had asked me to give my academics more attention then but I had no intention of doing that.
Soon, I won a State Championship and went to Nationals as well. I got a gold medal there which assured my parents and they have supported me ever since.
The first time, I played 3x3 competitively was in 2015. This competition was held in Chandigarh, a district-level meet and I won gold there as well. After that, I went to Pune for the State-level meet. We won over there too and Ranvijay Singh spotted us there and came over. After that, I went to represent India in the World Tour in 2015.
But obviously, like everyone else, I like 5x5 better. It's a different style of playing, you know. It gives you that kick.
When it comes to the Olympics, it’s not entirely impossible for the Indian 5x5 team to qualify. In fact, when we went play in the Maldives recently, we defeated the 4th ranked Mongolian team in overtime by a point. We won the match in 22-21. It was that close. We have a lot of good and experienced players in both 5x5 as well as 3x3, so qualifying for it is not an impossible job.
And that’s why I say we are underdogs no more. And this is not an underdog story.