NBA to open training academy in India

Sim Bhullar became the first player of Indian descent to appear in an NBA game in April 2015. The photo was taken during his visit to India in May 2015. Sanjeev Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Eager to expedite the growth of basketball in a largely untapped market of nearly 1.3 billion people, the NBA announced plans on Tuesday to open a training facility for top prospects in India.

The announcement marks a major step forward in the effort to recruit athletes from India and develop talent to compete at the highest international levels, and it comes a month after the launch of similar facilities in Hangzhou, Jinan and Urumqi, China. NBA Academy India will focus on instruction for athletes ages 14 to 18 and will be located in the National Capital Region. It is scheduled to begin operation in April 2017 and will provide academic education through a school partnership.

"Our mission with this academy is to develop and grow basketball in India," NBA vice president of international basketball operations Brooks Meek said. "It's focused on improving the level of the players on the national team and to really give a vision to Indian kids that there's a chance and a pathway for them in basketball."

NBA representatives will hold a series of scouting camps across the country to select the first 24 male scholarship athletes that will attend and reside at NBA Academy India. Those prospects will be selected by February 2017. The league is also in the process of selecting coaches, scouts and consultants who will staff and instruct at the academy. The academy plans to begin assembling a roster of top female athletes to train there soon after the facility begins operation.

"The strategy is a holistic approach," Meek said. "This is off-court and on-court education, all of the things we feel that we want to have a direct impact on influencing the 360-degree development of an elite basketball player."

NBA Academy India prospects will play against top domestic adult teams and also compete internationally. Ultimately, the most promising players at NBA Academy India will be considered for promotion to the NBA Global Academy, which the league recently established in partnership with Basketball Australia in Canberra as an international hub for the training of elite prospects.

"What we want to do is schedule the toughest and best competition for these kids to play against, knowing that it's not about wins and losses," Meek said. "It's about player development and achieving your best by playing against the best. That's a key strategic point for all of these academies."

Meek was part of the initial NBA delegation to India in 2005, sent to gather information, scout facilities and lay the groundwork for the growth of basketball in the world's second-most populous nation. Six years later, the NBA officially planted a flag by establishing an office in Mumbai. Since turning its attention to India, the NBA has held 1,500-plus grassroots events across the country, reaching more than 3.5 million youths and thousands of physical education teachers and coaches, thereby creating the framework of a network where gifted athletes can be discovered.

Recently, the NBA Jump talent search tapped 22-year-old Palpreet Singh Brar as the top player among a field of 32 prospects from across India. He then tried out for the NBA Developmental League and was drafted last month by the Long Island Nets, although he did not make the team's season-opening roster. Meek said the NBA would hold a similar set of scouting events, focused on younger athletes, to select the first group of NBA Academy India students.

Although still in the formative stage, basketball is undeniably on the rise in India. Many NBA players have made promotional visits to India over the years, including Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett. Earlier this year, Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry and Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez conducted youth clinics in Noida and Mumbai.

Some other key developments in recent years:

May 2013: Mumbai native Vivek Ranadive purchases a majority stake in the NBA's Sacramento Kings.

July 2014: The India men's national team defeats China for the first time, stunning the top-ranked hosts of the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan.

April 2015: Canadian center Sim Bhullar becomes the first player of Indian descent to appear in an NBA game.

June 2015: Punjab native Satnam Singh becomes the first player from India ever selected in the NBA draft when the Dallas Mavericks identify him in the second round -- No. 52 overall. (He currently plays for the Texas Legends of the NBA Developmental League and has yet to appear in an official NBA game.)

September 2016: India again upset top-ranked China, this time at the FIBA Asia Challenge in Tehran. India ultimately lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Iran.

The next landmark will occur in April when NBA Academy India creates a virtual pipeline connecting boys and girls from every corner of the nation to the highest levels of competition around the world.