Image Credits: Asmat Kaur
Get to know the new wave of Indian basketball talent, Asmat Kaur Taunque, who earned a move to the United States in pursuit of WNBA dream.
In Cricket-loving India, basketball still a fastest-growing sport. However, there is no shortage of epic hoop prodigies out there right now. Of all the young girls out there, 16-year-old Asmakt Kaur Taunque definitely stands out from the pack. Standing 6ft tall isn't the only thing distinctive about the Punjabi native, she’s controlled any court she’s played on so far — and she always let's her game speak for itself. She calls LeBron James the GOAT, after all.
Not only that, she was also a recipient of the ISPORA Award from the Olympic stars, the Phogat sisters, for her promising and exemplary foray into basketball at a young age.
Due to her height, Asmat was a natural for basketball and she loved playing the sport since she was a child and took it up seriously when she was 13. Through years, Asmat had established herself as an elite player.
With her great potential, she captained Maharashtra U-16 Girls Basketball team. She trained at the India camp and the NBA Basketball Without Borders Camp and even played for India at the U-16 FIBA Asia Cup 2017 before completing the NBA training camp in May 2018, but she always had her sights set on one goal —achieving her dreams and reaching new basketball heights.
Asmat is about as balanced a player as you can find. There were multiple obstacles she had to overcome on her way towards her desired path, but she always managed to breakthrough.
Targeting WNBA, Asmat is among the five girls from the batch of six who went abroad this year through the NBA Academies Women’s Programme in India.
She now attends The Lawrenceville School, near Princeton University, USA where she is plays her high school ball.
And she is just starting to tap into her potential.
As a centre and power forward, Asmat attacked off the dribble, knocked down jumpers consistently, and impacted the glass on both ends of the floor.
Definitely a prospect to keep on the radar in the coming years as she looks to continue her strong play.
In the interview, Asmat Kaur narrates her career journey to The Lawrenceville School, her game, her inspiration, future aspiration, and how her father pep talk helped her to push through and more.
At what age did you start in Basketball?
I started playing basketball at age 13, when my parents and school coaches encouraged me to pick up a sport. They pointed me in this direction due to my height and physique.
When did you say: yes, I will dedicate myself to Basketball?
Initially, basketball was just a casual fling for me. I played with friends and learned trick shots for fun. When I moved to Indore, my school coach spotted me on the first day of school and selected me to play in the U-19 school team. I was ecstatic. Soon after, I got more opportunities, and steadily rose to play for the Madhya Pradesh state team in the school nationals, where we bagged the gold medal, after only 8 months of training. This was when I saw my potential in the sport and decided to take it up seriously. I trained for almost 16 hours per week and eventually got the opportunity to play for India at the U-16 Women’s FIBA Asia Cup, where we emerged as pool B winners. I have played 10 national tournaments, including 3 at the senior level, and was also invited to the elite NBA Women’s Academy Camps and Basketball Without Borders Asia Camp. Although I am very happy with my previous achievements, I aspire to play in the WNBA and am working towards that.
Who is your biggest supporter when it comes to basketball and how has your family/school played a role in your basketball career?
My greatest supporter so far has been my family. My mom and dad, Mr. Dharamjeet Taunque and Mrs. Jaspreet Taunque, have been the backbone of my basketball career. My parents has always encouraged me and given me honest feedback regarding my game. He has both motivated me and helped me gain the mental strength and aggressiveness required for basketball. Additionally, my grandparents- Mr. Bhup Singh Taunque and Mrs. Amrit Pal Taunque- have always cheered me on and are proud of my achievements. I feel that I am blessed to have a such a loving family, and believe that my family, especially my dad, deserves the credit of whoever I am today.
You are taller than any 16-year-old. Now as an Indian it is an honour to have been accepted into a prestigious high school, in The Lawrenceville School, New Jersey. How’s the experience been so far?
I have had a very enriching experience at Lawrenceville so far. I have learned that one needs to work hard both on and off the court. Being a student-athlete requires one to excel academically as well as athletically, crucial for college. It was initially hard to juggle the rigorous academic and basketball training regimen; however, it improved my time management skills and made me grow as a player.
Playing in USA demands mental and physical toughness along with clarity of thought. The focus on academics helped me build critical thinking skills that helped me think through pressure, while the focus in the weight room helped me push my way through on the court.
Do you have a favorite college or NBA player that you like to watch?
Yes! I love watching all NBA players; however, my favourite is LeBron James. I really admire his aggressiveness on the court and single minded focus to play the game at full potential. I really like players who play to enjoy and not to win, which makes the audience feel the passion of the game, and I think James effectively does that.
Any tough moments (setbacks, rejections, injuries, basically anything difficult that you have had to overcome)?
I think my transition of studying in India to studying in the States was the hardest thing I had to do. Many times, we undermine the fundamentals as I did initially. I predicted the transition to be extremely smooth, since I have a background of moving to different places and interacting with people with different backgrounds and style. However, it was not like that at all. I realized how limited my understanding was once I stayed in the hostel at Lawrenceville. It was a 360 degree flip, unlike India, it was very quiet there. I was unable to connect with people instantly, which left me baffled since it was one of my greatest strengths in India.
To add on, the weather was also depressing for me in the winter. It is common to think that small factors like the weather seems petty, but it was hard to continue to fight through the solitude and wintery darkness. It was tough to transition to an alien culture and environment, but I pulled through and was able to be myself despite the adversity. I called my family and friends back home every day, just so I could speak in Hindi for some time, and they acted like a virtual support system for me. Soon enough, I became cheery and social again and tried to make the best of what I had in front of me. This experience helped me embrace the moment, built self-confidence and made me mentally stronger.
What are the challenges of playing basketball in India? Why isn’t it a popular sport among women in your state?
Although basketball in India is a well emerging sport, we often tend to ignore the nuances of the game. Statistics, nutrition, and rest are extremely important factors that have the power to make or break the player, often unacknowledged in India. I believe that if international facilities and specialised guidance were to be set up, India would see an upsurge of talented and hardworking basketball players.
Although many women play basketball well in Maharashtra, many other states see barriers and stereotypes holding women back in the sport. It is commonly believed in many states that playing sports, basketball especially, is manly and does not suit girls. I personally have experienced such comments and backlashes within my peer groups, but have learned to ignore them over the years. I believe that in most cases, society holds a very important role in shaping up a woman and if proper encouragement and freedom is given, Indian women can achieve greatly, be it in basketball or any other sport.
Who is the toughest player you’ve ever matched up with?
I remember playing against a team in USA that had a player who was taller and stronger than me. Being one of the tallest players in my team, I had to guard her. That game was gruelling, but I could not grow without setting the bar high. I got hit in the face multiple times (which hurt as I wear braces) but continued to fight till the last second of the game. That experience helped me become a better player and highlighted the areas I need more focus on.
What is your pregame ritual on game day?
Before my games, I like to listen to Kirtan (Sikh prayer). I feel that it gives me strength and determination. Other than that, I like to take my mind off things in the locker room with the rest of my teammates and also pay extra attention to the pre-game warmup. I try not to focus on the audience and just blur them out to maintain focus and get a better warmup (something that will actually help me in the game).
Are there any aspects of your game that you would consider underrated?
No player is perfect and there are definitely aspects that I am continually working on for improvement. Although I can shoot 3 pointers, I would definitely like to be better at it and try to get as much shooting during my free time as possible. Due to the current Covid situation, and the temporary shutdown of basketball stadiums, I focus on more of conditioning and agility drills to keep me in shape for my basketball games as soon as they start.
In your school, who is your team’s biggest rival in basketball and what makes that rivalry special?
The greatest rival of The Lawrenceville School is The Hill School. A rivalry that dates back to 1887, it is one of the oldest in U.S. history. During the infamous Hill Weekend, athletes from The Hill School come to our school to compete in various sports at the end of football season. It is a time during which all Lawrentians are eager and excited to cheer for Lawrenceville. This rivalry is special as it shows tremendous school spirit and one can hear the words “Go Big Red” (the official cheer for Lawrenceville) everywhere they go. During the basketball season, we, Lawrenceville, beat The Hill School both times we played them.
At this point in your basketball life what has been the most memorable moment, or moments?
Funnily enough, my most memorable moments do not include me receiving MVP awards and winning championships. They include the games in which I got so involved in the game that I could not see anything other than the ball and the ring. It was in Indore and we were playing an extremely tough team. The same team had beaten us multiple times previously, and naturally, that had set a fear in my mind. However on that particular game day, I did not think of the fear. I did not think about the crowd of people with drums cheering for the other team.
I only thought about enjoying the game – what basketball truly means to me. I played very passionately in that game, scored around 30 points, I think, and got many rebounds too. In the second quarter, while blocking a lay-up, I got brutally elbowed in the nose and saw drops of blood drip onto the court. I had two choices- either I could give up, satisfied by playing a good game till that moment, or continue to fight despite the temporary blackout caused by the injured nose. I took a five minute break, got all cleaned up, and was back in the game, even fiercer this time. We won that game, but it was my rebuttal that made me proud. I feel proud to this day that I chose to fight back when I got knocked down. I defeated my personal fears (repeatedly after that incident), and that has been one of the most memorable moments in my journey so far.
What is one piece of advice that has helped you get through the challenges you have faced?
When I played in the senior category first at 13 years of age, I was naturally intimidated by the older and fiercer players I had to play against. My dad’s brief but powerful pep talks got me through those games. He told me that it didn’t matter who the opponent was, it didn’t matter what my age was. A warrior never gets intimidated. Fear is often just a weak thought that we choose to amplify, so it’s best to just uproot it and throw it away. This stuck with me and helped me not only in basketball, but in many aspects of life that I am very grateful for.
What's your top five favorite basketball moves to do or that you just generally like?
I love doing the drop step, mainly because it involves pushing your way through the defence, the cross step, the fade away, hook shots, and reverse-step shots.
Finally, you’re still at a very early stage of your career. What kinds of things are you doing to make yourself the best player you can be?
I have realized that to be a great player, one needs to. Work hard and smart. Tirelessly training will not help; it is important to channelize that energy into productive sectors. I try to divide my workouts into three categories: strength and conditioning, weights, and court work (agility, ball handling and shooting drills). I usually try to focus on all three of these aspects, but due to the lack of access to basketball courts and gyms due to coronavirus, I try to do as many of these at home. I believe that nutrition is also very important for a sportsperson; if you don’t eat, you cannot put in the work on-court.
Additionally, it is crucial to work on the mental aspect of the game. I do this by watching sports movies and documentaries, and do a lot of self-analysis after my games. I feel that at 16, I can stretch my capacities and reach extremely close to my full potential, and I do not intend to squander this opportunity.
Who is your favorite NBA team and player?
Favourite team- Golden State Warriors, favourite player- LeBron James.
The best basketball movie of all time is?
Coach Carter, (guilty pleasure is Air-Bud)
5-on-5 full-courts, 3-0n-3 half-courts, 1-on-1 around a single:
3-on-3 half courts