Basketball and India

Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak: With Sports psychology as back-up, NBA Academy alum ready for basketball journey at North Park University

Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak

As difficult as that name might be to pronounce, it's time to get used to it.

He's a 6-1 guard, from Zarkawt in Aizawl, Mizoram from the North East of India, who recently committed to North Park University in Chicago, Illinois.

By doing so, he became the sixth NBA Academy India student-athlete to commit to playing basketball in the U.S after Harshwardhan Tomar (KEBA Preparatory School), Jagshaanbir Singh (Golden State Prep, Point Park University), Pranav Prince (First Love Christian Academy), Amaan Sandhu (First Love Christian Academy), and Riyanshu Negi (DME Sports Academy).

MORE: NBA Academy India Player Stories - Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak

"I am looking forward to this opportunity at North Park University that will keep me on the pathway I have set out on," said Chhakchhuak as part of the official release. "This wouldn't have been possible without the guidance of the coaching staff at the NBA Academy India and the constant support of my family."

Value of NBA Academy exposure on & off the court

Lalhnehpuia, or Naua as his friends at the Academy like to call him, joined the NBA Academy as part of its second batch in 2018.

He has represented the NBA Academy India at the Academy Games in 2018 and 2019, as well as Point Loma Nazarene Team Camp in San Diego in 2019.

The point guard credits a lot of his improved basketball play, especially his shooting, and personality development to his three-year stint with the Academy.

When he joined, he was a shy boy from the North East who was unsure about the reception he would receive. Calling it a 'changing' moment, he recalls feedback he received during one of the sessions of the Academy's 'Performance Lifestyle' curriculum.

"I found that I had to be more vocal and a bit more open towards my teammates," he shared on the call with Indian media. "It's like a burden off. As time passed, I started developing a good relationship with teammates. So, we started to bond more closely and that gave me more confidence."

MORE: NBA Academy India's male alumni studying abroad

The Academy's trips, including those to Australia and Atlanta, Georgia for the Academy Games in 2018 and 2019 respectively, played a huge role as well.

"It boosts my self-esteem when I get to travel and represent the country. When we travel, it really builds team chemistry since we travel as a team, so I became a lot closer to my teammates. Yeah, it was very good for my change in personality," Lalhnehpuia said in an exclusive with India's Yash Matange.

NBA India Games experience

One such trip from the NBA Academy India's base, at Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Complex in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), was to Mumbai for the NBA India Games in October of 2019.

"It was really a great experience," Lalhnehpuia recounted. "We got to meet the players. I even hugged Myles Turner and he was so tall."

MORE: NBA India Games - Fans come face-to-face with their idols

Watching the historic games was a dream come true for the teenager but he did more than that.

The Academy's student-athletes were in Mumbai for the whole week participating and assisting in various events including clinics for the NBA Basketball Schools program and NBA cares programs, and the coaches community in India.

"In the first game, I was the ball-boy for the Sacramento Kings. Buddy Hield and all would come, they would do their personal warm-ups and then we would take the ball. We were so close to the players, it was great."

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Lalhnehpuia didn't get any signed autographs but ensured he clicked plenty of pictures to look back at the momentous occassion.

"It was a memory that stood out for me [while] being part of the Academy."

Dealing with lockdowns in 2020

In the span of six months since the NBA India Games, things changed quite drastically. In March of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to rapidly spread in India, the nationwide lockdowns announced forced the Academy to shut down.

While all student-athletes dealt with staying in shape by following the workouts that were sent by their coach from halfway across the world, it was an uphill battle to substitute the personalized nutrition they would receive

"At the Academy, I have always had a good appetite. It was easy for me to gain weight there."

With no access the same level of nutrition, Lalhnehpuia began losing weight during the first few months at home during the lockdowns. However, just like with his personality growth at the Academy, with time, he overcame that adversity by heeding the right advice.

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In a normal year, the Academy's student-athletes would go home only thrice a year - the Summer break, Diwali and Christmas - but 2020 and its lockdowns had the young kids spending months on end at home, having not done so for at least the past couple of years.

"They would always postpone the time we had to return to the Academy. It was kind of good."

Calling it a blessing in disguise, Lalhnehpuia shares how the unplanned elongated stay at home strengthened the bond with his parents and family. As he reconnected with one family, he had to rely on virtual platforms such as Zoon to remain in touch with his other family - the NBA Academy brotherhood.

"At first, to be honest as I thought I was going to meet them in the next two months again, I wasn't really missing them that much. As time passed, it was not certain when we would return to the Academy. So, then I started taking the Zoom calls seriously."

These weekly Zoom calls, which included appearances from Indian basketball superstars like Satnam Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, not only played a key role in giving the coaches and the student-athletes the opportunity to check-up on each other and stay in touch but also allowed the teenagers to continue working on their life skills via their 'Performance Lifestyle' curriculum.

How did basketball begin?

Lalhnehpuia was introduced to the sport at the tender age of six, the first time his mother - a former player from her school days - brought him a basketball.

After setting up a hoop at home and learning the basics from his mother, he continued playing the game with his friends. Things began taking a turn when a neighbour introduced him to H Laldinsanga - the first and only player from the North East to have represented India at the international level.

"He brought me to a basketball coaching program and since then, I started taking basketball seriously."

Through inter-school tournaments and selections at sub-junior levels, Lalhnehpuia kept rising before finally catching the eye of Coach Scott Flemming - the Technical Director of NBA Academy India - at a Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program event in 2018.

On his recommendation, the young guard tried out for the Academy and the rest is history.

Admiration for Kobe Bryant

With respect to the NBA, the introduction for the young baller was the Black Mamba.

"Since I was a little kid, I have always had admiration for Kobe Bryant," Lalhnehpuia said. "He was the first NBA player I know. It was in the 2008 NBA Finals, I watched his game against the Boston Celtics. From there, he continued to be my idol."

The tragic and sudden passing of the Laker legend, in January of 2020, was a tough pill to swallow for many around the globe and Lalhnehpuia was no different.

"I was so shocked, surprised. I wasn't able to take it in," Lalhnehpuia recounts not having control of himself and taking the phone to school to scroll through Instagram for the latest whenever he got the opportunity.

"I was so emotional that day. It was so hard for me to believe that my favourite player had died."

Backup plan of Sports psychology

Despite all that he has already achieved, the young guard still has plenty of dreams and goals to fulfill. He wishes, one day, to don the national colours and become only the second player from the North East to represent India.

He hopes and plans to play basketball professionally for a career but he understands how fragile that can be.

"Basketball career can be shortened, it can just go away because of an injury," he explained. "So my parents, they have always advised me to never give up on my studies and having academic as a back-up plan is a good choice for me."

And that's where Sports Psychology comes in.

"During these years, a lot of NBA players have come up with mental issue problems like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan," Lalhnehpuia explains.

"I've been taking Psychology since Class 11 and I have interest in that subject. Also, I have the experience of being a sportsperson. So, if I could combine that and then be a sports psychologist, with my experience from basketball and knowledge I have from Psychology, I think it would be a great profession for me. I wanted to help people with those problems."

The young guard is just one of multiple recent examples that the Academy offers their student-athletes more than just basketball scholarships.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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