Vin Bhavnani (right) has come up the ranks in the NBA to become the assistant coach of Oklahama City Thunder for the fourth season. Image Credit: NBA India

Dubai: When giant Satnam Singh was drafted by Dallas Mavericks in 2015, he was acknowledged as first Indian-born player in NBA. The franchise league, however, has an Indian connection from much before that in Vin Bhavnani, the assistant coach of Oklahama City Thunder.

As Oklahama re-opened training facilities on May 18 and it looks there could still be a season played behind closed doors after the abrupt halt brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, Bhavnani said: “The NBA has done such a great job in terms of detailing safety guidelines. So our main priority is to follow them and be safe.” It was the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the home of Oklahoma, where the season came to an abrupt halt before the tip-off against Utah Jazz on March 11.

Speaking about his journey during a Instagram Live session with NBA for Indian fans, Bhavnani shared his journey about how it all began. “It was one dream, and I just acted on it. I really trusted myself,” said Bhavnani, a qualified engineer from the University of Southern California who nursed the dream of becoming a NBA coach instead of a cushy corporate role.

Back In 2004, Bhavnani was presented with two opportunities on the same day; to become a sales executive or join the LA Clippers. “It was an internship for about three years, there was no label, it was basically database entry into potential scouting,” said Bhavnani of the obvious choice he made.

A year before he took up the opportunity with the Clippers, Bhavnani had started building his credentials with the role of an assistant coach of the women’s basketball team of Santa Monica Junior College.

After spending three years at Clippers, San Antonio Spurs offered him an opportunity and he wasn’t going to miss working with his favourite NBA team. In 2007, he joined Thunder as a video coordinator and moved up the ranks to now serve as the assistant coach for the fourth season.

While Bhavnani was born and brought up in the US, his parents are originally from Ahmedabad and moved to the US later. The sport took Bhavnani back to his roots when he was a part of the 2008 Basketball Without Borders Camp in New Delhi and later in 2011 for Mahindra-NBA Challenge League and work briefly with the Indian men’s basketball team.

“The natural skill level of some players was very good. I was very encouraged about what I saw there as far as the level of talent at that time,” recalled Bhavnani, before adding: “There were so many good coaches then and now with the NBA Academy in India, there is so much more access to the sport.”

Like most basketball-loving fans, the Oklahama assistant coach was bowled over by ‘The Last Dance’. “It shows NBA seasons, that I have seen, accurately. It gets tiring at the business end,” said Bhavnani.

Another important takeaway for Bhavnani from the docu series was the connection between strength, performance on court and core coaching. “Michael Jordan’s training (regimen) from baseball to basketball, how much of an effect that has on the body. I think that is very prevalent now, I think that started to turn the corner a little bit,” he added.