Seeing potential to develop new talent in relatively uncharted basketball territory, the NBA opens an academy in India on Tuesday.
The elite training center, located at Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Complex in Delhi National Capital Region, will train top male and female scholarship players selected through a countrywide search with NBA-level coaching.
India, which has more than 1.3 billion people, has the potential to be "the next China for the NBA," NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum told ESPN.
"There are some elite prospects here who we think have an opportunity," he said. "One of the reasons why it is so important is that we are going to give them exposure to world-class NBA-type coaching and training and development to make sure they are given the opportunity to reach their full potential."
India has produced two NBA prospects thus far. Satnam Singh became the first India-born player drafted in the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks took him 52nd overall in 2015. Palpreet Singh Brar, who was selected by the 2016 NBA Jump program as the top player among 32 prospects from across India, was drafted last year by the Long Island Nets, the Nets' Development League affiliate, before being waived. Sim Bhullar, born in Canada, became the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA in 2015.
The NBA Academy, a league-funded residential program that provides prospects with training and school, hopes to add to that list even though basketball is a relatively new sport in India.
"Look, clearly cricket is the No. 1 sport here in India," said Tatum, who attended the academy's opening with NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco. "So, the cultural challenge is that growing up, basketball wasn't necessarily taught and played at the youth level. But we are actually investing a ton into making sure that more kids are being given the opportunity to play basketball, particularly in school."
NBA Academy India's opening, which included a traditional Indian lamp-lighting ceremony, comes after the launch of academies in China (Hangzhou, Jinan and Urumqi) and Africa (in Thies, Senegal). A NBA Global Academy will also launch in Australia.
While the newest academy is the first of its kind in India, the NBA launched a basketball school in Mumbai to hold clinics and camps, with more planned around the country and world. Tatum says the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program reached more than 3.5 million youth while training 3,500 physical education instructors on how to teach basketball in 2016-17.
NBA India has organized more than 1,500 grassroots events in 30 cities around the country since 2008. But now the NBA hopes to develop top international male and female prospects with Ray Farrell serving as technical director for on- and off-court development, Jacques Vandescure acting as the player-development coach and Todd Gates overseeing strength and conditioning. Former WNBA star Jennifer Azzi is the technical director for the girls' program.
Students will compete year-round and have the opportunity to play in select international tournaments and exhibition games. They also will focus on education, leadership, character development and life skills.
"There's about 5 million people, according to the Basketball Federation of India, who play basketball here," Tatum said. "Obviously compared to China, there are 300 million people who play the game.
Tatum said that in the next five years, the goal is to ensure the prospects reach their full potential. "And if that full potential means that they are playing Division I basketball in a university in the U.S. or they are playing in the NBA G League [which to this point has been known as the D-League] or other leagues around the world or they become a player in the NBA."