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Some of India's most talented young players are still learning under Subramanian, who, as the only coach at the partially government-funded academy, jokes that he's also the "warden, gatekeeper and clerk." He has plenty of talent to track. Sixteen-year-old 7-footer Akashdeep Hazra came to train with Subramanian after his family saw an article in a newspaper saying the doctor was looking for tall players. Palpreet Singh Brar, a skilled 6'10" center who expects to be a national team fixture, was the third-leading scorer (21.5 ppg) at the Under-18 Asian Championships in August 2012. Loveneet Singh, one of country's top young guards at age 18, is the rare Indian player with swagger. In one recent practice he wore a shirt that read, YOU LOOK LIKE MY NEXT GIRLFRIEND.
Subramanian hopes desperately that Satnam reaches the NBA, but he's pessimistic about the future of basketball in India. He sees too little infrastructure and support for coaches. "In the U.S., the coach is the king," Subramanian says. "Here they are the servants. There's no system here."
A brain hemorrhage sidelined him recently, but Subramanian returned to work a few weeks after getting out of the hospital. "I want to die on the basketball court if possible," he says. The problem in India is finding more coaches of similar passion and knowledge. There's been some progress. One of Justice's prized protégés is Arjun Singh, 31, who lived at a YMCA in Mumbai from ages five to 16. His father left him there, and the Y gave Singh education, shelter and an accidental career path that could serve as a grassroots model for the future.
Singh began playing at 12 when his YMCA installed a basketball court. Now he's considered one of India's bright young coaches. He began his coaching career 10 years ago making 2,500 rupees (about $46) a month. His wife, Shadar, pleaded with him to quit and work any office job. Now he has six coaching jobs around Mumbai, jumping from schools to YMCAs and teaching more than 300 kids per week. He now makes more money than most teachers and national team players. He smiles broadly as he bounces around the court doing defensive slides and teaching dribbling drills. His frequent whistles mimic the sounds of Indian automobile traffic. "I think people should do what they love doing," Singh says.
One of his recent practices looked much like practice in the U.S. There was make-it, take-it during warmups; gear from Nike and Adidas; and an unhealthy devotion to the crossover dribble. Plenty was different, too: The frenetic Indian fast-break game features quick-trigger three-pointers, scant ball movement and so little defense that players are offended by physical play. There was also the distinctly Indian underhanded outlet pass, a high-risk long-distance cross between a discus throw and a cricket bowl. At the Bandra YMCA one night the passes went so high that they appeared to scrape the city's low-hanging smog.
Much of the players' on-court inspiration comes straight from David Stern's corporate plan back on Fifth Avenue: YouTube videos such as Top 10 Crossover Dribbles, which 18-year-old Shiva Razak happily called up on his smartphone. The kids in Mumbai look forward to the day when India's grass roots sprout their own NBA Internet sensations.
Within four years, in fact, the U.S. and Indian basketball worlds could meet on a historic NBA draft night. "We can grow up," says 15-year-old Samson Sandu, when asked what it would mean if Satnam's name were announced by David Stern. "We can compete in the NBA." Until then, Indian basketball will sputter along in fits and starts, one high-risk, smog-scraping outlet pass at a time.