At NBA summer league, Satnam Singh is still fighting for his chance

NBA summer school: Satnam Singh's patient approach (0:55)

The Mavericks' center from India is feeling more comfortable on the court as he gains experience. (0:55)

LAS VEGAS -- With the first quarter of the Dallas-Phoenix matchup dwindling down to a close, Mavericks guard Josh Adams dribbled up the floor, received a screen from Ding Yanyuhang and drove left. The Suns' Mike James and Dragan Bender, charged with protecting the pick-and-pop attack, trapped Adams, leaving Ding wide open from beyond the arc. Adams swung the ball over, and the 2017 Chinese Basketball Association MVP swished a straight-on 3 to the tune of hundreds of elated Asian-American fans busting out in applause.

All the while, Satnam Singh -- a 7-foot-2 center and the first Indian-born player drafted into the NBA -- stared on from the end of the Mavericks bench. Challenged with igniting hoops enthusiasm halfway across the world, he must climb a steep ladder to catch the attention of his home country.

While Ding merits his own acclaim, it is hard to imagine that an arena full of fans would have trekked to Las Vegas in the dead of July for NBA summer league had Yao Ming not come before him. But what happens when you're not a bona fide All Star such as Yao?

The truth is, two years after being selected by the Mavs in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft, Singh -- the face of Indian basketball -- is still toiling away, fighting for minutes in the NBA's development league with the Texas Legends.

However, Singh's resolve remains steadfast. And even if he hasn't increased his minutes or on-court opportunities, observation alone has proved an invaluable experience. He spent two anxiety-ridden years champing at the bit, watching the clock and wondering when his name would be called. He now has learned not to focus on what he can't control.

"I was stressing my mind," Singh said. "Always thinking, 'I need time. I need time.' Whereas now, nothing is happening. If I waste my time like that, I get too much pressure on my mind. I lost everything."

It helped that the Mavs were a wrecking squad en route to the summer league championship in Orlando this year, providing the garbage-time minutes Singh so desperately craves to hone his abilities.

"If I get a couple minutes, I just rebound and finish the shot," he said. "Focus on running, keep running up and down the court."

In that game against Phoenix, which Dallas won 88-77 on Sunday, Singh played In the final two minutes, boxing out and putting the hurt on any Sun who dared venture near the rim.

Toiling away in the background and hustling up and down the court in the hopes of maybe one day becoming the fourth big man in an NBA rotation isn't exactly the easiest sell. But to understand Singh's potential, you also must understand how far Singh has come in such a short period of time -- and against what odds.

Born in Ballo Ke, a tiny village in the state of Punjab, he was destined to a life of wheat farming, until his father took a life-defining chance at the suggestion of a friend and sent Singh to Ludhiana, a nearby city, to play basketball. It was there that the IMG Academy in Florida granted him a three-month scholarship that eventually stretched out to the day he declared for the draft. Starting at 14 years old, Singh not only was tasked with perfecting a new sport among lifelong prospects but also learning to speak English, a language with which he had no familiarity. In many ways, it is remarkable that he is even here at all.

In the documentary "One in a Billion," which chronicled his rise to prominence. including a pre-draft visit back to India, Singh stood atop a dust-covered pathway in his home village and proclaimed that one day, he would build a basketball court in that very spot. This summer, Singh will return to the homeland to represent the Indian national basketball team in the FIBA Asia Championship.

"In the last three years when I was drafted to Dallas, I've never been back home," he said. "Becoming the first Indian-born player who gets drafted, other kids they can see we have a great opportunity, we can go play in the NBA."

Singh isn't taking anything for granted.

"It's not easy to play over here," he said. "It's pretty hard. You need to work every single day. You need to work every summer, nonstop."

Inch by inch, he is clawing for the chance to play in his first NBA game. If and when that happens, those size 22 feet -- the same ones that nearly a decade ago wore raggedly cushioned shoes cut in the middle and held together by duct tape -- will take a giant leap, both for his career and, perhaps more importantly, his nation.