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Indian basketball captain joins Australian club

Sydney, Aug 30 (PTI) Indian basketball captain Amritpal Singh became the first from the country to join an Australian National Basketball League side as Sydney Kings signed him for this season.

Amritpal signed on the dotted lines yesterday and he will travel with the Sydney team for its historic pre-season clash against the Utah Jazz before the NBL season begins on October 7.

Amritpal missed a flight to Sydney from New Delhi, being caught up in widespread rioting after self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was found guilty on two counts of rape. But the Punjab player eventually made it to Sydney and King's coach Andrew Gaze was happy to have signed the 26- year-old Indian.

Gaze said that Amritpal was not signed for marketing reasons and he has made it to the side purely on merit.

"You can't use one of those spots just for some token reasons or for marketing, there's none of that, as a coach I wouldn't do that, he's absolutely here on merit," Gaze was quoted as saying by Sydney Morning Herald.

"We've got to keep this in perspective, he's got a long way to go. This is not the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, he's a player I believe has huge upside.

"He's a quick learner, he's got a good IQ, he's got a good instinct for the game, a natural instinct. He's got a lot of upside on the basis he's only been playing the game for five or six years."

When Amritpal received an opportunity to attend the NBL Draft Combine earlier this year in Melbourne he jumped at it, desperate to pursue his dream of leaving India to play basketball professionally.

That's where Gaze first spotted the 212cm 26-year-old, and he had an even closer look at Amritpal when the Punjab native paid his own way to attend Kings preseason training.

So impressed was the coach with Amritpal's potential, he picked him to play in the Kings Invitational team which won the Atlas Challenge tournament in China.

Amritpal starred in the final against Lithuania, pulling in 16 rebounds and draining 17 points, and earned himself the 11th and final spot available on the Kings roster.

Amritpal played cricket as a youngster, and was of a normal height until midway through his teenage years when he shot up and broke through the two-metre barrier.

At 19 years of age he took up basketball and in seven years he's risen through the ranks to become India's national captain.

"It shows there's just enormous potential there, the big fellas generally can go on a little bit later in life in terms of their basketball careers because they don't get any smaller," Gaze said.

"He's a good athlete, and he comes from a relatively small town in his area with not a lot of resources to refine his skills. It's testament to his work ethic and his love for the game and passion that he's been able to make this type of progress.

"One of the things is he doesn't have a lot of the wear and tear. At 26 it's not like you're old but the nature of the game it can be physically demanding

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