The NBA Academy program seems to be reaping the rewards for its work.
In about four years since it was established in India in 2017, at the Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Complex in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), it has assisted in over a dozen aspiring ballers from the country accepting scholarships to prep schools or colleges in the United States.
MORE: List of NBA Academy India female alumni studying in prep schools or colleges
Take Asmat Kaur Taunque for example.
Reacting to the CalTech acceptance letter
The 17-year-old was recently accepted into the California Institute of Technology, an NCAA Division III institution in the USA.
"I had no expectations at all. I'll be very frank," Asmat said in an exclusive with NBA.com India's Yash Matange.
For @NBAIndia: Sharing a couple of clips from my interview with #NBAAcademy India alum @asmattaunque, who recently signed with @Caltech.#IndiaBasketball | @NBAAcademyPR- Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694) May 31, 2021
In this clip, she talks about her reaction to being accepted to the college. Check it out: pic.twitter.com/qbCWw1CU4S
This would make her the fourth-ever Indian - all women - to play college basketball in the NCAA circuits with the other three being Kavita Akula, Sanjana Ramesh and Harsimran Kaur (later in 2021).
Set to major in Chemical Engineering as a part of the class of 2025, her remarkable achievement comes nearly two years after she was accepted into the prestigious Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, USA back.
"My parents definitely helped a lot in the process, without their support and without their research and encouragement, I don't think it would have been possible."
The couple of years at the private boarding school proved to be an important stepping stone to realizing her college dream. On and off the court, it simulated the college environment and better prepared Asmat for the college selection process.
"I feel that my game definitely improved after coming here [the USA] ," Asmat shared.
Battling lockdowns during the Lawrenceville stint
Getting accepted into Lawrenceville, back in 2019, made her among the first NBA Academy India girls to join a college prep school abroad and Asmat was a step closer to playing basketball and study in the US.
However, less than a year in, COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill and Asmat, like everybody else, was forced to deal with a lockdown and its challenges.
"I was supposed to play the U16 FIBA Asia Cup again in Australia for India," Asmat begins sharing her ordeal with cancellations and lockdowns due to COVID-19. "I went to the camp in Bangalore but as soon as I reached, there was the news that the tournament's canceled."
That' wasn't the only bummer. Later that year, in the summer, Asmat was selected and slated to play AAU games for the Philadelphia Bells but that got cancelled as well. So, with the United States (June-July 2020) and India (September) battling the peaks of its respective first waves of COVID-19, Asmat ended up spending the fall semester of her senior year from India.
"I would have classes at like 6:30 pm and then, they would end at like 12:30 or 1:00 am," Asmat begins to explain her new schedule. "And then I had some extracurriculars like I was tutoring a third grader as part of my community service. So that would end at like 3:30 in the morning and that's when I could go to sleep."
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If the time difference wasn't enough of an uphill climb to overcome, the young teen was also battling a slew of other commitments like her college application and her workouts.
"There was a lot of work and not enough time to do it," Asmat shares. "So my workouts did kind of take a backseat but at that point, the applications and schoolwork were more important. So, I think it's just all about balancing and prioritizing."
With how everything has worked out, Asmat seems to have come out on top. Now, it's time to focus on the next priority - "The goal is to be super basketball ready by October."
How did basketball begin?
Even while she was at home, during the fall semester, Asmat would battle through and put in some workouts at 4:00 am in the morning and then go to sleep.
The need to stay in shape is part of a sportsperson's lifestyle but to do so at odd times at the end of a regular college day requires a lot of mental fortitude and passion. Fortunately, Asmat has plenty of both.
"Just casually started playing and then I grew to love the sport," Asmat begins talking about how basketball began. "My height was definitely an advantage in the initial years because that encouragement shaped my passion in the later stages."
She began 'casually' playing when her father, who played basketball during his high school days, asked her to pick a sport at the age of 13. While she was leaning towards Tennis, he insisted on giving basketball a shot.
As the saying goes, nobody can teach height. That god-given skill was seen as an asset and coaches were keen to help Asmat develop the rest of her game, which only fueled her passion for the sport.
"Then as years went by, I played a couple of national tournaments. I started to love the sport, honestly, it just became less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle."
NBA Academy's invaluable exposure
Similar to her college application, Asmat didn't expect to be selected even for the state team. Once again, she was pleasantly proved wrong.
"I guess I was better than I thought. I guess, I just didn't know my own strength at that time, because I was strong and I was tall, and I could push my way on the court."
A former U16 captain for Maharashtra, she played senior national tournaments at the age of 15 and 16. At 14, she was part of the India squad, who were crowned champions of Division B at the FIBA U16 Women's Asian Championship in 2017.
Her talent and play caught the eye of the selectors and that took her a long way.
It put her among the short list of girls selected for the first-ever NBA Academy India Women's Camp in May of 2018 and the ensuing Basketball Without Borders Asia Camp.
"The two camps [May 2018 and Jan. 2019] I went for were very helpful for me because I just got a sense of how the game the sport is played at a more international," Asmat describing her experience at the NBA Academy India Women's Camp.
MORE: Lookback at 1st-ever NBA Academy India Women's camp in 2018
"I understood the work ethic of US coaches and not just US coaches but really highly experienced US coaches. So, I think that exposure was very, very beneficial."
Despite her rapid rise up the basketball ranks, the NBA Academy experience introduced her to key vital practices that were not very different but significant nonetheless.
"In India, we usually have our practices before breakfast while they [NBA Academy] prefer to do it after breakfast," Asmat said. "It was an interesting shift because I think it may seem like it's insignificant but it does play an important role."
"Even before and after the training sessions, we had I think a Physiotherapist, who would help us cool down properly and warm up properly. So, I think those structured warmups and cooldowns were also very important."
While she and her parents did much of their research themselves beforehand, the presentation and sessions at the Academy on college eligibility in the US certainly helped Asmat get accepted not only into a prep school but also in a college in the US.
What does the future hold?
"I don't want to compromise either on basketball or on academics because both have a really important role in my life," Asmat said when asked about what's next.
Giving up basketball is not an option for the 17-year-old, however, she insists that she does like the comfort of a degree in engineering for the future.
Watch out for Asmat as she continues living her dream and goes on to represent Indian Basketball in the NCAA circuits.
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