Basketball and India

Exclusive: Amjyot Singh previews India's chances at FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifying Tournament

This past Saturday (Aug. 14), Amjyot Singh was named to India's 12-man roster for their upcoming fixtures at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifying Tournament.

The selection is the first time in over three years, that the former NBA G Leaguer had been named to India's senior national basketball team consistently over a span of 12 months.

"It's been very nice. I've been blessed to be part of the Indian contingent and representing the team once again," Singh said looking back at the past year.

MORE: Amjyot Singh - A Career Interrupted

Prior to the team's departure for Saudi Arabia, the 29-year-old discussed a host of topics including India's chances at the Qualifying Tournament Games, NBA Academy India graduate Amaan Sandhu and more in an exclusive chat with NBA.com/India.

India's journey to the Qualifying Tournament

After six games played across 12 months, India advanced to this Qualifying Tournament on the back of one shot - Vishes Bhriguvanshi's game-winning prayer from near halfcourt.

"I just feel blessed that I was part of it and had some contribution to it," Singh recollects that game against Iraq from February of 2021.

"I think my assist, Aravind's steal and Vishesh's shot made it possible for us to make it to the Qualifying Tournament."

Singh hits the nail on the head. That game was tied at 78 and was headed to overtime if Bhriguvanshi's heave didn't fall. If India were to lose that game in overtime, they would have been tied on points with Iraq but would have failed to qualify for the Qualifying Tournament on the back of their point differential.

MORE: India's track record at the FIBA Asia Cup

Given India's streak of consecutive appearances at the Asia Cup, failing to even qualify for the 'Qualifying Tournament' would have been catastrophic.

Discussing the opponents - Saudi Arabia & Palestine

In the Qualifying Tournament, India is one of five teams battling for three spots in the final 16-nation Asia Cup, which is scheduled for next year. These five teams, all of whom finished third in their respective groups through the three windows of the Qualifiers, were further divided into two groups.

India, Saudi Arabia and Palestine were slotted together in Group H with each nation playing the other once, with the top two advancing. Among the three, India is ranked highest on FIBA's rankings for men at 78 while Palestine ranks close behind at 83 and Saudi Arabia at 87.

However, Singh clarifies that the rankings are immaterial.

"I don't think that's [FIBA rankings] important because they are a better team and they have evolved as a team in the past years," Singh said. "We've also evolved as a team in the past years, so I don't think rankings matter that much."

"It's about the day, Anyone can make wonders over that span of time."

Among the three teams, Saudi Arabia - that will receive the home-court advantage with these games being played at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah - finished with a 3-3 record in the Asia Cup Qualifiers in Group E while India and Palestine finished with a 2-4 record in Group D and Group F respectively.

India's roster and chances

With two teams set to advance out of three, point differential plays a huge role unless India wins both games and easily seal their ticket to the Continental competition next year. However, Singh is quite confident about how India's going to fare.

"We are planning to win both games. That's our goal," Singh shared.

India's roster construction and preparation is a lot different and better in comparison to their lead-up for the previous windows of the Qualifiers.

MORE: Silver linings from India's disappointing Window 2 results

In Window 2, the roster competed after nearly seven months of no basketball activity due to the COVID-19 induced nationwide lockdowns, whereas in Window 3, the team was missing a host of veteran players in Amritpal Singh, Aravind Annadurai and Joginder Singh.

This time, however, all three veterans are back and the team is travelling to this Qualifying Tournament after a national camp that lasted nearly 50 days.

3BL & NBA Academy India's Amaan Sandhu

This past May, in a landmark move, the 3BL - India's only FIBA recognized 3×3 professional basketball league - received formal recognition by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI)

Singh is one of the notable few Indians to have competed professionally in both formats - the 3x3 and 5-on-5 - a transition that is far harder than it sounds. Although he is still open to playing both formats, if encouraged by the Federation, Singh believes the 3BL will do plenty good for youngsters in India by facilitating them with invaluable professional experience, which has been non-existent in India before.

To cap-off the interview, Singh also discussed emerging star and NBA Academy India graduate Amaan Sandhu, who didn't make the cut for the squad but was part of the camp in its final days.

"I've seen a huge difference in Amaan's game," Singh said. "He has been playing very nice. I've seen him grow up from his childhood and I've been seeing him evolve as a basketball player. So, I'm very impressed with his game."

Along with Sandhu, another NBA Academy India graduate Pranav Prince was also part of the camp's final days. He made the cut for the team's 12-man lineup which made it his first-ever selection to the senior national team.

Both Sandhu and Prince have been playing at First Love Christian Academy - a private high school in Washington, Pennsylvania, U.S.A for the past year.

Feature Image courtesy FIBA.com

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