‘The Bhullar Brothers’… there’s an unmistakable ring to it. Definite marketing potential. Kind of like the ‘Singh Sisters‘— four siblings from Varanasi who have all played basketball on the senior Indian women’s team.
The Bhullar Brothers and the Singh sisters both play basketball. But that’s where the similarity between the two sets of players ends. While the Singh sisters are home bred stars who mastered the sport’s many nuances in India, the Bhullar Brothers are busy raising the India flag in packed college gyms in the US.
There’s also the distinction in size. While the tallest Singh sister tops off at around 5ft 10 inches, the shorter of the two Bhullar Brothers, Tanveer, is 7ft 3 inches, and perhaps still growing. After all, he is only 19 years old. In case you are wondering, his elder brother Sim, 21, is 7ft 5 inches tall. There’s a lot to look up to in these two (sorry, had to use at least one height pun).
Like Yao did with China, the Bhullar brothers have the chance of doing the same with India: popularising basketball in a one billion plus strong nation.
For all the talk about small ball and Muggsy Bogues coming to India and stressing that “talent is more important than height”, basketball remains and will perhaps always remain a tall player’s game, with players below 6ft largely an exception.
It can’t be a coincidence that out of the three likeliest NBA hopefuls from India, all three are 7 footers from Punjab. Apart from Sim and Tanveer, there’s also 18-year-old 7ft 2 inch Satnam Singh who was discovered at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy in 2009 by Mr Troy Justice, Senior Director of NBA’s international basketball operations. Satnam is currently busy training at the world class IMG Facility in Florida on a full scholarship.
These are of course still early days and there’s a lot to be desired from Tanveer and Sim (and even Satnam for that matter) before they can be touted as serious NBA draft picks. Their lateral movement is slow and their stamina has to improve: they tire easily thanks to the energy expended in hauling their 340-pound selves up and down the court. But they have size..oh, and what size!
As the classic coaching dictum goes, you cannot teach height. “The ease with which (Sim) Bhullar dunks, or swats away opposing shots, is astonishing,” notes basketball analyst Howard Megdal. The Bhullars are so tall that they can block shots even without jumping.
The brothers’ accomplishments aren’t restricted to the basketball court. They do well in the classroom too. Tanveer has a perfect 4.0 GPA. But in all honesty, the only thing basketball aficionados in India care about is their on-court performance. Who wants a 7ft 5 inch guy suited up and working in a corporate office anyway?
Sim and Tanveer’s parents migrated to Toronto, Canada from Punjab in the late 80s in search of better opportunity. It was a difficult decision at that time, fraught with risks. Bhullar Sr. worked in a gas station and spent years saving up to finally own a station himself. Along with his wife who worked two factory jobs, they created a modest life for themselves. The earning was limited, but they more than made up for it with a loving household.
Between the five members of the family, the Bhullars straddle 5ft, 6ft and 7ft. Mother Varinder is perhaps the shortest at 5ft 10 inches, then there’s daughter Avneet, father Avtar at 6ft 5, and the twin towers of Sim and Tanveer at 7ft 5 and 7ft 3 inches respectively.
Sim and Tanveer began playing basketball at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School, Toronto. To ensure their continued progress, they made the tough choice of moving out of Canada to the US. At Huntington Prep School, West Virginia, the Bhullars were accompanied by fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins, the latest college phenom currently at Kansas.
It was now time for college and the Bhullars plan to continue their journey southwards. “Although I had an offer from Xaviers, Ohio (a top flight basketball university) our family realized that we couldn’t afford the $42,000 first year tuition fee. So I decided to join New Mexico State University,” says Sim [quote altered].
NMSU or the “Aggies” are seeded 13th in the NCAA and are a constant threat to higher-ranked teams. Opposing scouts continue to grapple with ways to counter Sim Bhullar’s mammoth shot-blocking presence in the paint and it will just get tougher for them next year, as younger brother Tanveer takes to the court. Like his elder brother, Tanveer is currently sitting out his freshman 2013-14 season as he has “red-shirted” himself in order to be eligible for another year of college ball.
For the 2014-15 season, there is the mouth-watering prospect of Sim and Tanveer taking to the court simultaneously – that’ll be a combined front court height of almost 15 feet!
Sim, on his part, was voted the most valuable player for the last two seasons (2013 and 2014) in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Add Tanveer to the mix and their individual stats will most likely improve. “We know where each other are on the court. He has a little more of a jump shot, so he plays the high post, I play the low post.” Sim told Sports on Earth.
Apart from carrying the fortunes of the Aggies for the next few years, the Bhullars are also keenly aware of their additional responsibility towards players back in India, if they do make it to the NBA. “I think it would be a blessing,” said Sim in a 2011 New York Times interview, “to be the first from an entire country to go to the NBA. and be a role model.”Published 29 Mar 2014, 19:10 IST