The seeds of basketball greatness were planted by Dr. Sankaran Subramanian in Ludhiana Basketball academy at Guru Nanak Stadium in 2002, and Indian basketball is still bearing the benefits of the incredible pool of talent which has sprouted from it. A diminutive man from Tamil Nadu, Dr. Subramanian along with Teja Singh Dhaliwal and R.S. Gill established the LBA with an aim to scout and train 'Tall and Talented' youngsters in basketball, and judging by the results their objective has been accomplished multi-fold.
"It is hard to find such a coach in India. It was his dream to see a professional basketball league in India. He used to live in the future with high ideals and thoughts, and he would work day and night to make them come true. He left earth too early, there was so much he had to see happen.”- Yadwinder Singh (Haryana Gold). Until his death in 2013 at the age of 75, Dr. Subramanian rarely left his room above the Guru Nanak Stadium in the Ludhiana Basketball Academy.
The 3rd UBA US Pro Performance Camp was held in Phoenix, Arizona in December 2017 and it had some of the top UBA players in attendance. 12 players headed from India to attend the camp where they were joined by new and returning faces from America along with 9 new Indian origin players living abroad. Out of the 12 basketball players who made the trip from India, more than half of them had deep roots in common with Satnam Singh, Garry Gill (Punjab Steelers), Yadwinder Singh (Haryana Gold), Jagdeep Bains (Mumbai Challengers), Palpreet Brar (Bengaluru Beast), Loveneet Singh Atwal and Khushmeet Singh Atwal (both from Bengaluru Beast) all hailing from LBA.
"Tall players are everywhere in India, but why don't we have another such academy in Amritsar or Jalandhar or anywhere else? Because there are few people around who can lift the talent up,"- Loveneet.
This was the first trip to the USA for some of the players, including Yadwinder, Loveneet and Khushmeet. Jagdeep was attending his 2nd UBA US Pro Performance Camp, having attended the first camp back in 2015. When people travel abroad, they usually bring back mementos in shape of trinkets/clothes/handicraft items. When Dr. Subramanian traveled abroad, he would bring back heaps of VHS tapes of basketball back. Giddy with joy, he'd pore upon them in the late hours of the night and be ready early next morning on the court, eager to implement what he had learned.
Dr. Subramanian would bring back basketball knowledge from abroad to share with his students. With the UBA, his students get opportunities to travel to the USA to learn in the UBA US Pro Performance Camp.
The reunion of LBA players in the USA in the 3rd UBA US Pro Performance Camp saw Satnam reunite with his mentor Jagdeep. "I'm so happy Satnam is here in the camp. It is very good to train together and prepare for the next UBA season. Really excited for it,” said Jagdeep. Satnam was overjoyed at the reunion as well, all the more so having hit a three-pointer over his mentor during the UBA Million Rupees Challenge in the camp. "When he started basketball, I think in 2002, and I started in 2004 when I came to Ludhiana Basketball Academy. I know him for like 10-14 years. He's my role model in India." said Satnam.
The camp also saw the reunion of other LBA players with Khushmeet and Satnam reuniting along with others. “Satnam and we started our basketball journey together. Back in LBA in 2004, we heard that a new kid has joined, and he's really tall. He got a lot taller since! We went to the same school, played in nationals and for India together. Now he's such a big player, but he's still as down to earth as the kid who walked into the LBA back in 2004," said Khushmeet fondly.
A true basketball genius who had dedicated his entire life to the sport, Dr. Subramanian spent over 40 years of his life coaching and learning basketball. He competed in the National Basketball Championship from 1964 to 1967 as a player and would go on to win multiple gold medals as an assistant coach for the Services team as well. Even before starting LBA, he had coached numerous luminaries including Arjun Awardee Manmohan Singh and 1980 Moscow Olympians Paramjit Singh and Tarlok Singh Sandhu. Under him, Indian men's team toured Gulf countries including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in 1980 and were undefeated with a 15-0 record against national and professional teams.
He joined National Institute of Sports in 1973 as a 1st-grade coach and completed an International Trainers Course from Leipzig (East Germany) the next year. To say the man was erudite would be an understatement. Having an MSC in Physics and Masters in NIS with first class, he was also versed in Kinesiology and Biomechanics. He obtained a Ph.D. in Sports at German College of Physical Culture, Leipzig from 1983 to 1987 and also underwent the IOC Solidarity course. His learnings enabled him to craft and continuously fine-tune a basketball program which gave fruit to some of Indian basketball’s finest talents.
With the 68th National Basketball Championship being played in Chennai, Tamil Nadu in January 2018 it was a befitting return for Satnam Singh to Punjab’s team. Before forming the LBA, Dr. Subramanian had wanted to start an academy in Tamil Nadu but was told to stick to coaching schools and colleges. The last time Tamil Nadu hosted the National Basketball Championship was in 2011, a tournament which saw hosts Tamil Nadu face Punjab in the finals in a tightly contested affair with Punjab emerging as the winners. The 70-62 win marked an end to a 13-year gold medal drought for Punjab in the Nationals and served as vindication for Dr. Subramanian who coached the team.
Seven of the twelve players on that Punjab team were from LBA. In the Asian Basketball Championship in 2011, six out of the twelve players were from LBA. The Indian team in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in November 2017 had five players from LBA. The trend is continuing even today.
When UBA Season 4 tipped off in Sathyabama University Stadium in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, the league had 14 players from Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA), with every team except Chennai Slam fielding at least one such player. Bengaluru Beast had the most players from LBA, with Palpreet Brar, Loveneet Singh Atwal, Khushmeet Singh Atwal, Rajan Sharma and Jaipal Singh Mann. Garry Gill (Punjab Steelers), Jagdeep Bains and Dildar Brar (Mumbai Challengers), Yadwinder Singh and Jaskaran (Haryana Gold), Arshpreet Bhullar and Amritpal Singh (Pune Peshwas), Aagosh Sharma (Hyderabad Sky) made up the other LBA players in the league.
"I'm really excited to get to play here. I never imagined this, to get to be able to be a part of a professional league in India. A lot of people watch the league and it is a great opportunity in India," -Satnam Singh.
Before coming to LBA, Jagdeep was a track athlete. Yadwinder was a discus thrower. Palpreet worked on his family's farm. Without Dr. Subramanian and the LBA, they might have made a profession in some other field instead of basketball.
A steadfast disciplinarian, Dr. Subramanian would not tolerate tardiness on the part of his students and did not indulge in it himself either. As his health worsened in his advanced years, he would continue to attend tournaments as he felt he could help his players. Upon his passing away, his 'Bhog' ceremony was attended by thousands from the basketball community.
He gave everything he had to the academy, playing roles of a coach/parent/tutor/clerk/peon and whatever he felt might be required. If he wasn't on the basketball court, he would either be on his way to or back from it. There were days he'd be so tired after a day's work that he'd hit the bed in his training clothes. He worked ceaselessly to imbibe his work ethic in his young wards, and now all of India gets to witness the fruits of his labor in action.
Satnam became the first Indian to have been drafted in the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks picked him with the 52nd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. After being drafted, Satnam came to Dr. Subramanian's house in Patiala on 8th August 2015 and tearfully laid his team cap aside his portrait in gratitude. He will now get to be a part of another dream of his first coach, to play in a truly professional basketball league in India when he takes to the court in UBA Season 5 with the best Indian basketball players from all over the world.
“I know he must be watching me from above and feeling proud,” said Satnam of Dr. Subramanian. His pride would have only have amplified manifold if he could see his students put on a show for all of India to watch on live TV. India has read a lot about Dr. Subramanian and the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, but the only way to see the players in action has been to physically attend competitions they might have been competing in. When UBA Season 5 tips off, it will see the fruits of the labor of Dr. Subramanian, among those of other revered coaches, in action on the court amidst the best Indian basketball players from all over the world and top international talent from USA and Canada.
They say competition brings out the best in people, and India will once again get to witness the talents of the players from Ludhiana Basketball Academy on the highest stage in the country, playing at their highest level in the upcoming UBA Season 5.