Amaan Sandhu, the first Indian-born male basketball player to receive a Division I scholarship, comes from a family of hoopsters. His father captained India’s men’s national team, his sister played for the women’s national team, and his mom played for the state team. The 7’1″ first-year center, who is eyeing a career in the NBA, says a big part of his motivation is playing for his family members who never got this far.
“I want to carry my dad’s legacy,” says Sandhu.
An alumnus of the NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training academy in the Delhi National Capital Region, Sandhu talked with us before the season about his basketball odyssey, what makes Monmouth feel like home, and why it’s OK for strangers to inquire about his height.
ON HOW HE DISCOVERED BASKETBALL.
My parents never forced me to do anything. I started playing basketball just for fun and eventually fell in love with the game. It got serious when I was selected for the NBA Academy in 2017. That was huge. Hundreds of coaches came to tryouts and selected 21 of us from thousands of hopefuls.
ON WHAT THE NBA ACADEMY MEANT TO HIM.
That was my family. I stayed there for three years, and they taught me everything. I learned how to speak English. They changed my body. They taught me how to play basketball. They taught me how to be a good human being on and off the court. I got a chance to travel around the world—Europe a couple of times and the United States, before I moved here, a few times.
ON WHY HE CHOSE MONMOUTH.
I just fell in love with this school. The people—they’re so nice. And it’s right by the beach! The biggest thing that made me commit was the coaching staff. I felt like I knew the coaches for a long time, like the connection was already there. I’ve always wanted a coach like Coach Rice. I couldn’t ask for a better coach or to be anywhere other than Monmouth right now.
ON THE POWER OF PUNJABI MUSIC.
Music plays a huge role in my life. It hypes me up before games and practices and helps me relax when I’m hanging with friends. My favorite rapper is Sidhu Moose Wala. I don’t go anywhere without his music. I use his song “Jatt Da Muqabala” as my walk-out song. The lyrics roughly translate to “There is no competitor of me. I’m one of one.”
ON WHY HIS HAWKS TEAM IS FAMILY.
There are times when I feel pressure. I start thinking too much: I’m the first one, I’ve got to show everybody. Coach Rice helps me at every step. He makes sure I don’t feel pressure. Sometimes I’m going through problems and my teammates come together and say, “We know something’s going on. Talk to your family.” That’s what makes me feel so comfortable. We’re a family here. I can go to anybody on the team and tell him what’s happening in my life.
ON BEING AN AMBASSADOR FOR MONMOUTH AND BASKETBALL PLAYERS IN INDIA.
I used to get tired of questions about my height. “Can I get a picture of you? How tall are you?” I used to just say, “I’m late for my flight,” or something like that. Now I just tell them, “I’m seven-foot-one.” Because then people will come away thinking, He’s a good guy, or Oh, let’s go to the team’s games.
Because I’m the first male from India to commit to a D-1 school, there are a lot of younger players who message me on Instagram. I try to answer everybody as soon as possible. I want to stay connected with my community back home.