“He can play”: An Interview with Darsh Preet Singh

Darsh Singh recalls the struggles and support that come with being the NCAA’s first turbaned Sikh American basketball player.

Darsh-Trinity1It was his first ever basketball game in high school, and like any other freshman, Darsh Preet Singh was anxious and excited to get the season underway. He looked to the sideline during warm-ups and noticed his coach arguing with the referees and the coach of the opposing team. Darsh walked over to see what was going on and overheard the opposing coach shout: “But he can’t play with that thing on his head! Show me in writing where it says he can play!”

Darsh’s coach—Greg Maxwell—walked over to the bench, pulled out the small whiteboard on which he designed plays, and furiously scribbled: “HE CAN PLAY.” Coach Maxwell continued lobbying for Darsh’s right to wear a turban while playing until the opposing coach and the game referees agreed. Darsh was allowed to play that game.

Starting February 26, the Smithsonian Institution will be displaying the jersey of Singh, the first turbaned Sikh American to play basketball for an NCAA program. He spoke with us about his remarkable journey, including the challenges of traveling through the South and the relationships he has forged with teammates and coaches.

The Smithsonian is honoring you for being the first turbaned Sikh American to play NCAA basketball. Tell us what it feels like to be recognized for this achievement.

Honestly, all of this is still hard for me to believe. It still feels like a dream sometimes. In some ways, I feel like I haven’t done anything special. I just liked to play basketball and made the college team. It’s not that different than so many of my friends I grew up with. On the other hand, I realize that I have overcome a number of challenges and that this is a huge step for my community. From that perspective I feel really blessed to have had such amazing opportunities and experiences, and I feel especially grateful when young children thank me for providing inspiration and blazing the trail. That’s really special to me.

What was it like growing up and playing basketball in Texas?

Believe it or not, I don’t think I would be who I am today if it wasn’t for my Texas upbringing. I grew up in San Antonio with three brothers, and we are all huge Spurs fans. They had a real impact on us as kids, and we would play basketball any chance we could. We played in gyms, rec leagues, pickup games, school teams—whatever we could find. I hit an awkward growth spurt when I got to high school, so all of a sudden I was one of the taller and lankier kids in the school. Our team worked hard and won consistently, and although I was the team captain, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play in college. I received admission to a great academic institution—Trinity University—and I ended up walking on to the team. I began my freshman year as a benchwarmer, at the bottom of the totem pole, and after three years of dedication and hard work, I played my senior year as the team’s co-captain. It was a really incredible experience.

Tell us more about playing at Trinity University. How did people treat you when they saw your turban and beard?

Trinity is part of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, and we played most of our games in small towns in the South. Many people in those towns had never met a Sikh, and some people would shout hateful things at me during games. I remember them yelling things like “Go back to your country!” or “Cut your hair!” I wasn’t too affected by these comments because I’ve been dealing with them my whole life. The amazing thing for me was watching how quickly and passionately my teammates would jump to my defense.

There are so many stories that come to my mind from our time on the road together. After a pre-game meal, two guys drove by in a truck and yelled four-letter words and ethnic slurs at me. I just ignored them and kept walking, but one of my most levelheaded teammates—Jay Riola—was so offended on my behalf that he shouted back at those guys. I was really touched that he cared enough to stand up for me. Another time, some guys drove by us and shouted: “Go back to your country, f*****. My teammate Andy did not appreciate the comment and chased after the truck. These moments meant a lot to me because it showed me that my teammates had my back.  It really was like family, and these are still some of the strongest relationships I have today.

Darsh-Trinity2That sounds incredible. Did you always have that kind of support around you? Or was that a somewhat exceptional case?

I feel really fortunate that I have always had this support around me. My parents are amazingly supportive, and my mom actually made it to every single one of my games. My family and friends were always encouraging, and my teammates never looked at me as being any different or any less. If anything, my teammates have always given me additional respect when they get to know me as a person and see firsthand how I deal with the various challenges that come my way. I vividly remember how outraged my teammates were when they found out I had to get a formal waiver from the NCAA that allowed me to play college basketball. It really gave me a sense of comfort knowing that they cared about me as a person and teammate and that they wanted to have my back.

I was also really lucky to have a special coach at Trinity, Pat Cunningham, who taught me what was important in life, not just basketball. I’ve learned so much about work ethic, caring for others, working on teams, and communicating effectively. I will always remember him as my favorite professor in college. Most importantly, Coach Cunningham helped me realize that being able to play basketball was a real blessing and privilege in the context of everything else that goes on in the world.


Image courtesy of Ryan Fung.

Simran Jeet Singh
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  • http://twitter.com/sukhjit sukhjit

    I’m so inspired by this story. Thank you for sharing Darsh’s basketball adventures… faith, family, teamwork and community all really important and powerful things.

  • Kanwar Kochar


  • Surinder Dua

    Congratulations, Darsh, on your accomplishments. You do have Guru’s blessing as you seem to have a wonderful disposition, and a soaring spirit (chardi kala) of a Khalsa. May you serve as a role model, be an inspiration to many many others young sportsmen and sportswomen living their lives in full Sikhi form. I want to take this opportunity honor and commend your coaching staff as well as your teammates, who had your back in difficult and traumatic social situations. I feel that their support made your journey a whole lot easier. They seem to me to be real wonderful human beings. May they be blessed happy and healthy lives.

  • Rational Conclusions

    Putting the kibosh on all religions in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!! (only for the new members)

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e. the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc.) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request

    • Chandeep Sahni

      Chew on this if you can finish reading!!!!!

      So comparative analysis and critique of a timely prescribed generally accepted path as an act of remembrance, residual or resurrection of renaissance can hardly be bestowed on your sarcastic skeptical observation.

      Because unlike renaissance which was a bridge between the medieval and modern thought process and contributed heavily to liberation and improvement in human condition by highlighting existing Dogma, I suspect you or like minded don’t have the right incubation or motivation to go beyond mere observation and critique from your limited comprehension.

      To go beyond that would take an internal intervention to be creative, to realize to propose which as said requires untold incubation and doesn’t happen that often.

      Your skeptical critique, although providing a valuable service in highlighting the intricacies and progression of religious expression and ideas throughout time, is most likely arising out of observed tyranny and oppression of religion and hardwired as skeptical nature. It is hardly a constructive innovative contribution. It most likely comes from Fear and oppression and needs an external established generally accepted religion or phenomenon to disect and critique.

      In that respect I would rather hardwire Sikh teachings of help and love from Guardian angles and unlimited chances to reinvent and reincarnate my thoughts and move closer to a deliberative enlightenment which tells me that no easter, gabriel, moses, Abraham, cows or skinny Budhas doesn’t mean no Judaism, Christanity, Islam, Mormonism or Budhism.

      • Rational Conclusions

        Only for the new members:
        “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to their god to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

        The Situation Today

        Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed.” J. Somerville

        It is very disturbing that such religious violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

        • Chandeep Sahni

          Rational thought needs some continuity.

          I get that 95% of people follow religion, explanation of creation, thought process of their parents and country they were born in because change is hard.

          Just like changing You, from a deep rooted ingrained skeptical and questioning attitude towards mass following big organized social and political establishments specially the oldest ones like religion to following, conforming and accepting an establishment.

          Where you are getting incoherent is in pointing to failure or nonexistence of religions in previous post and stupidity of religion in this post.

          You are not able to comprehend disruptions like war and change to existing accepted social,
          political and religious establishments in every time and place in history by
          human nature like yours or mine to be right and dominate.

          Tendency to throw in the towel and baby with the cradle and give up on all aspects of an evolved accepted system, like religion in your case, or capitalism, Socialism, Communism, or Royal Bloodline in someone else’s case is a result of genuine experienced tyranny or most likely undue exaggerated, deliberate or manipulated focus on a particular or pattern of historical disruptions that have occurred until present day.

          This lack of understanding of Human nature to dominate, change, resist domination, change and then dominate again in an endless cycle as part of evolution, is getting you disenfranchised from the particular resultant, religion in your case, as compared to a Royal blood line, Political system, or socioeconomic system.

          Know yourself what gets you mad and why there is a big lesson in it.

          • Rational Conclusions

            And to summarize, you are a Sikh because you were born a Sikh and are tied to it both economically and socially and are afraid to think outside the box you have been born into no matter that theologically and historically it has no structure.

          • Chandeep Sahni

            I am not tied to Sikh economically at all. I work in mainstream western economic markets 99%. Socially I am tied to Sikh about 40-50% of time. My kids are born Americans and we associate to more American Social norms and customs as compared to Sikh.
            I am not afraid to think outside of the box or a bubble as you can see I can effectively correspond, argue and respond to your paradigm because Sikh teachings have made me humble enough to question me and my viewpoint from time to time and the capacity to love and understand you where you are coming from, hence such a point to point clarification of where you are getting stuck or incoherent due to being disenfranchised from war or religion.

            Lastly, I would be happy and proud if structure was missing from Sikh teachings theologically and historically because Sikh teachers and its teachings only empower the individual to have his or hers own equal unbiased relationship with the creator and humility respect and love in recognizing everyone else’s right including yours to have your own conversation and thought process with the creator or the creation if you choose to.

          • Rational Conclusions

            Which brings us back to the beginning:

            A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc.) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

            You might want to read Bryson’s book ” A Short History of Nearly Everything” to bring yourself up to date on the reality of the universe we temporarily live in.

          • Rational Conclusions

            The following also might help:

            As noted previously:

            And the infamous angel cons continue to wreak stupidity on the world:

            Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

            “Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

            Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

            Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tin-kerbell” got around).

            Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As do BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

            The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

            Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

            Some added references to “tink-erbells”.


            “The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., “Praep. Evang.”, xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: “He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed.”
            Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

            “TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel.”

            And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

            “In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don’t convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda (“Wise Lord”, God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water…).”

            “The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. ”

            “The ‘Magic Papyri’ contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. ”

            For added information see the review at:

            “The prophet Ezekiel described an incredible vision of cherubim angels in Ezekiel chapter 10 of the Torah and the Bible, mentioning that the angels’ wings were “completely full of eyes” (verse 12) and “under their wings was what looked like human hands” (verse 21). The angels each used their wings and something “like a wheel intersecting a wheel” (verse 10) that “sparkled like topaz” (verse 9) to move around.”

            For a rather extensive review of angel wings, see …….angels.about.com/od/AngelBasics/a/Angels-Wings-And-Things.htm

          • Chandeep Sahni

            Your quarrel with qualifying prophets or teachers as ordinary people like us and or lineage based fiction writing depicting angles or mermaids and whatever revelations hallucinogenic or not described in Islam or christian texts are accurate or not I am unable to comment on.

            Fiction or not some things remain unknown or outside the realm of understanding that no hallucinogenic can answer……….Who created the universe and Why?

          • Rational Conclusions

            As noted above:

            Think infinity and recycling with the Big Bang expansion followed by the shrinking reversal called the Gib Gnab and recycling back to the Big Bang repeating the process on and on forever. Human life and Earth are simply a minute part of this chaotic, stochastic, expanding, shrinking process disappearing in five billion years (or sooner) with the burn out of the Sun (or a super volcano eruption or an asteroid collision) and maybe returning in another five billion years with different life forms but still subject to the vagaries of its local star.
            Bottom line: The Universe just is. It was not created.

          • Chandeep Sahni

            Really the Universe is just is…..So does human nature to dominate and change and war is just is.

            So no one created the universe and its expanding and contracting is also just is. You are a good silent observer.

          • Chandeep Sahni

            I know Bryson’s description and observation about size of universe, atoms and subatomic particles and all things known and improvised through arguments and critique…But what does your scholarly knowledge and comparative critique tell you about

            Who created the universe and Why?

          • Rational Conclusions

            o Think infinity and recycling with the Big Bang expansion followed by the shrinking reversal called the Gib Gnab and recycling back to the Big Bang repeating the process on and on forever. Human life and Earth are simply a minute part of this chaotic, stochastic, expanding, shrinking process disappearing in five billion years (or sooner) with the burn out of the Sun (or a super volcano eruption or an asteroid collision) and maybe returning in another five billion years with different life forms but still subject to the vagaries of its local star.

          • Chandeep Sahni

            Still doesn’t answer the question, Who created this big bang and Gib Gnab and or the conditions for it and Why?

            Hope your mind was expanded to accept things as they are a little and be peaceful a little that whoever created will sustain and destroy according to his, her or its will and the mermaids and angles will protect us until there is time for it to destroy according to his, her or its will.