The basketball court is where Sarju Patel spent most of his childhood. He’s been hooked to the hardwood since the University at Albany guard was in third grade.
“I think the amount of hours I’ve put in here, they have sort of molded me into the person I am,” Patel said. “I think a lot of the character that I have is because of basketball.”
Growing up in Virginia, no other sport brought Patel more joy. And when attending games and tournaments, he was usually the only Indian-American player there.
“I was definitely one of one,” he said. “If you ever looked around any court there was nobody that looked like me. That had something to do with me being Indian, but it also just had to do with me being five foot and like 12 pounds my whole life.”
That growth spurt didn’t arrive until his junior year of high school, leaving Patel standing at 6 feet, 3 inches. But by the time his senior season rolled around, NCAA Division I college coaches still weren’t hitting him up. So Patel just kept working.
“I knew I was fighting an uphill battle with the aspirations that I had for this sport,” Patel said.
After a postgraduate year, he got his shot to play at the Virginia Military Institute. After his sophomore season, Patel transferred to Cornell.
“I think most of my growth as a basketball player, I credit to both VMI and Cornell,” he said. “Those two coaches think similarly, but they have different styles.”
During his one season on the court with the Big Red, Patel was a captain, averaging a little more than 9 points and 3 1/2 rebounds a game. According to NCAA statistics, Patel was just one of 19 Asian Division I men’s basketball players out of more than 5,600 athletes.
“I had a decent amount of people that I had to look up to and seek advice from,” Patel said. “Just because my dad being an Asian immigrant, he didn’t know too much about the basketball community, how recruiting works, how this and that works.”
Patel used his final year of eligibility at UAlbany to pursue an MBA. He started 26 of 32 games and averaged nearly 8 points and 4 rebounds a game for the Great Danes.
Patel has come a long way from those days when his parents weren’t sure if focusing on basketball was the best decision.
“They always supported me. The resources were always there,” he said. “They worked their butt off to get me to where I am now.”
With his collegiate career all done, he’ll be playing in The Basketball Tournament this summer. But after that, he’ll contemplate on what’s next on and off the court.
Patel says it’s hard to imagine life without basketball.
“It’s awesome. I know I represent a pretty good cause. I think a lot of people sort of want to emulate it, or hopefully, there are kids right now working to get further than I did,” Patel said. “But it means everything to me.”