Recruited by an Italian academy, with dreams of playing for the national team: Interview with basketballer Harshwardhan Tomar
At only 14, Harshwardhan Tomar stands at a staggering 6’7’‘. The Bhind, Madhya Pradesh native was spotted by scouts during the junior team’s performance in Jakarta, Indonesia, and recruited to the Stellazzurra Basketball Academy, where he will hone his skills, practice and study.
Should the Academy be pleased with Tomar’s performance, he will be invited to be a full-time student there.
It’s big pressure on the shoulders of a young boy who would otherwise have been attending classes in high school with his friends – but Tomar is handling it with aplomb.
Sportskeeda spoke to the teenager about his love for the sport, his goals, dreams, and his favourite NBA team.
Given your height, were you always predisposed to basketball?
Actually, basketball was not even my first sport. I was very fond of cricket and football, and would play them regularly. In fact, I was considering pursuing one of them. But my mother, who was an excellent basketball player in her youth, pushed me towards basketball, and I really enjoyed it.
Then I started practicing in earnest, and then (Sports Authority of India) coach Rajeshwar Rao Kalva saw my talent and potential, and pushed me. It was his motivation and support that helped me truly get into the sport.
I know height is very important with basketball, but I had to work quite hard on physical fitness and agility too, they’re just as essential to the sport. I have worked on my physicality, my speed, training, all of it.
I’m continuing to do so at the Academy as well.
Considering basketball is not big in India, and most fans follow the NBA rather than national basketball, did you face opposition in pursuing the sport?
Actually, I was very lucky like that. My mom was a basketball player in her youth but she was not able to pursue it for a number of reasons, so she encouraged me all she could to play the sport.
I train daily and I’m passionate about what I do. And it has definitely paid off.
What do you think of the state of basketball in India?
A lot more can be done for the sport in the country actually. Right now we don’t have proper facilities. Courts are lacking, lights aren’t ideal. It’s not really easy to practice. The sport isn’t promoted as much as it could be either, so people don’t think of it as something they could pursue.
Also, I had spoken to some Chinese basketballers. They have 6-month long training camps before they go into tournaments, whereas Indian basketballers get 2 weeks or so. That training gets missed out, and really affects performance.
Sport mein interest nahin hai toh facilities nahin, investors nahin, he says.
How closely have you been following the Indian basketball team, and do you have any favourites?
I love them. Amjyot (Singh, the forward for the Indian national basketball team) is my favourite. He’s so agile and quick, and he’s really active. His fitness is amazing too, and he’s one of the most active forwards I’ve seen in basketball. It’s real fun to see him play.
But it's difficult for Indian talent like his to get spotted out here.
Do you think that’s a reason for people shying away from the sport?
Yeah, scouts don’t really come here and look on their own. Even Satnam (Singh Bhamara) was scouted for the NBA from his academy in Florida. (Bhamara, who plays for the Texas Legends in the NBA Developmental League, went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida where he was spotted by scouts.)
I aim to train hard at Stellazzurra myself, but there should also be people looking for talent in India.
What are your immediate goals?
Right now I just really want to play well. Play better than all the guys I’m playing with and against in Italy. They’re physically so good, so much fitter than Indian players. It’s quite difficult. And it’s quite a diverse field here too. There players from Serbia, Jordan, from Sweden, everywhere. I have to not only match up to their level but be better than them. That’s what I want to achieve first.
You’re an NBA fan – what team and players are your favourites?
Oh, I loved the Lakers but the Cavs (the Cleveland Cavaliers) are my absolute favourite. Kobe was once my all-time favourite player but currently I really admire and like (Cavs’) LeBron (James) and Kyrie (Irving).
I love the way he (LeBron) moves across the court. His intensity, his power, his jump, his strength, it’s amazing. I’m a big fan. I love Kobe, he should not retire. He should play again next year, maybe the Lakers can come back if Kobe does not leave.
I also really like (the Los Angeles Clippers’) DeAndre Jordan.
What are you hoping for from the future?
Most important for me is to make the national team. Right now I want to work harder. To push my skills, to push myself. I want to do better for myself and make the team.
Who has been your biggest support through this journey so far?
Oh, I am lucky. I’ve had a lot of support from many different people. First of all, my parents, and my mom who pushed me to do this. She encouraged me every step of the way. My grandmom actually scolded my mom, asking her how she could send me abroad, alone, to train at such a young age. My mom handled everything.
BFI (Basketball Federation of India)’s Himanshu Dave has also been a great support for me through this.
My coach has been my biggest supporter though. He has searched on the internet for me, found programs, helped me train and looked up techniques.
Himanshu sir actually was the one who told me all about this. Although my coach found this online, BFI sent me an invite call saying that Stellazzurra had spotted me. Then my coach researched some more, and the BFI coordinated everything.
And now I’m here.
What message would you like to give those who are looking at basketball?
Not just basketball, all sports. But for basketball, they should know, it is not hopeless, it is not bad. They can work hard, and when they do, their parents should also support them, and they will succeed.
I go by this: agar target hai, aur achieve ho jaye, (if you achieve a goal you’ve set for yourself), don’t be satisfied. Keep making new targets, go on and on. Set new goals for yourself and keep trying to achieve all of them.