Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak commits to North Park University with psychology degree and making history on his mind

A 6’1” point guard from Mizoram, Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak is fascinated enough by the human mind to want to pursue a degree in psychology. But he is also drawn by the prospect of making history.

Amit Kamath June 07, 2021 10:35:20 IST
Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak commits to North Park University with psychology degree and making history on his mind

File image of Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak (centre). Image courtesy: NBA

The bespectacled boy on the other end of the video call is a student of psychology. He’s fascinated by the human mind, he says by way of explanation for his next move: Committing to North Park University in Chicago to get a degree in psychology.

But more than psychology, Lalhnehpuia Chhakchhuak is drawn to history. More precisely, the possibility of making it someday on the basketball court. The football-crazy state of Mizoram has only ever seen one basketball player represent the country, H Laldinsanga.

Lalhnehpuia, or Naua as teammates call him, wants to be the second.

“In Mizoram, basketball is a very popular game. Since the Mizoram Super League started, a lot of people have started playing the sport. But in the state, we don’t have too many role models in the sport. Or much exposure. If there were more players to have played for India, it would make the sport more attractive to kids. They will start to see that there’s a future in the game.

“Representing the country is a big thing. Since I played at my first sub-junior nationals, it has been my dream to play for India,” says Lalhnehpuia, who last week became the sixth NBA Academy India graduate to commit to playing basketball in the USA, after Harshwardhan Tomar (KEBA Preparatory School), Jagshaanbir Singh (currently at Point Park University after first committing to Golden State Prep), Pranav Prince and Amaan Sandhu (both at First Love Christian Academy), and Riyanshu Negi (DME Sports Academy).

“I didn’t really think I would make it this far, to be honest,” he admits. But now that he has, his dreams are measured. Carefully thought out. He doesn’t say he wants to play in the NBA. “Everyone wants to be an NBA player. But then reality strikes,” he says before adding he would want to play professional basketball someday (which could mean playing in the NBA’s development league—the G League—or other leagues across the world). “And I would like to represent the country. I want to be an inspiration for young Mizo basketball players.”

Point guards from India getting opportunities to play in America are rare. Barring Negi, who was 6’3” when he opted to play for DME Sports Academy, the other Indian players to get opportunities at the high-school, collegiate or professional levels were all strapping men. Many of them, like Amjyot, Princepal and Amaan are broad-shouldered presences on the court, unlike Lalhnehpuia.

A 6’1” point guard, the lad from Mizoram understands that he needs to use his brain and passing skills to outwit the more muscular field.

“I would like to improve my shooting and my floater (when in USA). Since the game is now spread out (on the court), even centres can shoot three-pointers. So I need to get better at my shooting. And I also need to master my floater because of my height. I can use that to score in the midst of taller players,” he says.

Lalhnehpuia grew up idolising the late Kobe Bryant. He also likes LeBron James and Devin Booker. But ask him who he wants to model his game after, and he says: “Chris Paul. When I watch his game, height-wise he is very small. But at that height, he is able to dominate the game. I want to play like him because he uses his mind (to do that).”

A self-confessed introvert, Lalhnehpuia remembers the time he first joined the NBA Academy India, and struggled to adapt.

“I was very shy. It was so difficult for me to interact with the other players. I used to wonder what their perception of me would be because I come from North East India. I was kind of scared. When the practices started, I was having difficulty on the court because as the point guard, I had to lead the team, command them on the court and call out plays. I was too shy to do that,” he says.

But as time passed, he started developing a rapport with his teammates. His confidence too grew.

Now, as he finds himself on the cusp of a move to USA, he will have to make more changes to his personality. (Amaan) Sandhu and (Pranav) Prince, both of whom are with First Love Christian Academy in Washington, have been telling him that he will need to toughen up to play in USA.

“In order to survive in the US, I have to be tougher,” he says. “In order to survive, I may have to change my personality.”

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