By Surbhi Gogia
Ever since Toronto Raptors won the historic NBA championship, basketball fever is running high in our hockey-dominant nation. It wasn’t unusual to spot Canadians playing basketball before, but Raptors’ tenacious play has inspired many new basketball players and followers. The emotions are running beyond just talking about the game. It is very much possible to achieve your dream if you work hard — is what every basketball lover is thinking now.
But there is one Indo-Canadian player who has been working hard and shining in this game for years. Meet Sukhjot Bains, a Delta-Surrey resident, who has charted out a winning road for himself and now wishes to be a role model for the youth. Bains, a Tamanawis Secondary grad and current University of the Fraser Valley Cascades men’s star, was recently picked by the Fraser Valley Bandits to play this Summer. Fraser Valley Bandits is the professional basketball team based in Abbotsford and is part of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL).
Bains, who grew up in both Surrey and Delta after moving to Canada from India at a young age, recently made his CEBL debut for Fraser Valley, becoming the first Indian-born player to play in the CEBL. He attended Burnsview and then Tamanawis Secondary while growing up. A tall kid since childhood, Bains always had an advantage while playing a sport. Currently, with 6 foot 6 guard, he says neither basketball nor being extraordinarily tall runs in the family. “My dad is 5’10 and mom is 5’8. I and my elder brother were just plain lucky to stretch this much.”
It was being tall that became one of the important factors for him to join this sport. In his early days, Bains was never into basketball. “As a kid, I played soccer. I was introduced to basketball by my elder brother. Since I was one of the taller kids and had the right height to play, basketball came naturally to me when I started playing it in grade 5. It was from grade 9, I pursued it seriously,” says Bains.
Bains’ roots run throughout BC’s basketball landscape. After leading the Tamanawis Wildcats to the B.C. 4A Final Four in 2013-14, Bains was voted B.C.’s top Grade 12 high school boys basketball player in a poll conducted by The Province newspaper. The honor came after Bains averaged 28.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in his senior high school season.
After Tamanawis, Bains’ basketball journey then took him to Peddie Prep in New Jersey. His solid play led to an offer from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. In his second season at Northwest College, Bains averaged 13.4 points and eight rebounds per game, which prompted an offer from NCAA Division 1 school, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Bains spent just one season at Wisconsin-Green Bay before an opportunity to shine on home soil at the U SPORTS level called his name. He averaged 3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in 15.7 minutes per game for Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2017-18. With one season of NCAA Division 1 basketball under his belt, an opportunity to play alongside his brother, Navjot, in his senior year at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) resonated for Sukhjot. In his first season for the Cascades, Bains averaged 12.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 32.4 minutes per game.
Today, Bains takes another step as he becomes a professional basketball player for the Fraser Valley Bandits. “I am extremely happy to have this opportunity. The Fraser Valley raised me, and the opportunity to show kids throughout Surrey and the region that their dreams are possible is an absolute honour,” he stated. “I am hoping to be a role model for the youth of all ages and backgrounds by showing that if they work hard enough in the classroom and on the court, they can achieve these types of opportunities,” Bains said.
His advice to those who want to take this sport professionally is to explore the opportunities locally first where they live. “Canada has been a hockey dominant country but after Raptors win, basketball has become very popular and things have started changing. I am sure there will be a lot more opportunities coming up,” he said. Bains along with playing at the school and the university level got associated with AthElite Basketball club. ” I got the opportunity to participate in a lot of tournaments both in Canada and in the US, through my club. I got noticed from there.”
“Sukhjot’s signing is huge as it shows younger players from Surrey and the Fraser Valley that they can make it as well. This is really big within the Indo-Canadian community,” said Aman Heran, who coached the Bains brothers for a number of years as part of his high-level club program, AthElite Basketball.
“He is a great basketball player who is athletic and versatile with the ability to score at the rim and with his shooting. His ability to guard all five positions is probably his greatest asset. As great a basketball player, he is, he’s an even better person. Sukhjot is humble and respectful.”
Talking about his game, Bains himself feels that working on all parts the game is important instead of limiting yourself. “In high school, I was more focused on my offense. But my brother told me to work on all parts. I have put in a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball and now I feel my defense ability is strongest,” he said.
Never giving up and working hard, are the mantras behind his success. His message to the youth is the same. “It doesn’t matter what age you play and where you come from, as long as you put in work, there are opportunities available. A lot of people give up too fast and too easily if they don’t win. One thing I did to improve my game was that I never gave up. Keep working towards your goal and as long as you keep working you will get towards them.”