This year, Nike Basketball introduced the EYCL (Elite Youth Champions League), a newly created AAU pathway for teams to compete for a spot in the EYBL Finals at Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC. Out of the 14 EYCL programs, UPLAY (Canada) emerged victorious as the inaugural regular season champion with a dominant 14-1 record. One of UPLAY’s key contributors is 2024 guard Ishan Sharma, a sharpshooter who hit 45% (31-69) from deep through three sessions. Standing at 6’5”, Sharma has good size and a strong feel for the game, being able to space the floor and navigate the pick-and-roll as a ball handler. The 2023 BioSteel All Canadian represented Canada at the 2021 FIBA U16 Americas and 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup, averaging 10.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.
In this interview with Pro Insight’s Conrad Chow, Sharma discussed helping UPLAY win the EYCL regular season and earning a Peach Jam berth, his prowess in solving the Rubik’s Cube as a hobby, his Indian heritage and inspiring the next generation of kids, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2024 prospect Ishan Sharma, from Milton, Ontario, Canada:
Pro Insight: How did you get to where you are today? Talk a bit about your background and family.
Ishan Sharma: My name is Ishan Sharma, class of 2024. Honestly, I started playing basketball when I was around four or five years old. I played rec basketball for the first time when I was in 3rd grade, so 8 years old and I played for like the local team in Milton called Halton Basketball and from there I just worked really hard playing for them for a long time. Worked really hard, but then COVID happened and I found my way to UPLAY and so through UPLAY, I got some exposure and I met some people who have helped me get to where I am today.
PI: Any particular guys from the Milton area that you played with growing up?
IS: So I had a couple of friends that obviously played ball with me and both of them were pretty good, who play in USports now. And I also had my brother, obviously he's from Milton and I used to play with him a lot, which kind of helped me get a lot better or stronger, you know, have that competitive edge to me as well. So just like a couple people that helped me in Milton that were pretty good as well.
PI: Any other athletes in the family?
IS: So my brother actually is a basketball player. He's actually playing in the CEBL right now, which is cool. So yeah, he's a big part of my basketball journey as well.
PI: What team does he play for?
IS: He plays for Montreal Alliance.
PI: What is the best basketball advice you’ve received from him?
IS: Yeah I’m pretty sure the best advice he’s given me is, “no matter who's in front of you, no matter what the situation is, what kind of game it is, whether the game seven or it's a preseason game to always look at who your opponent is and just go for the kill every single time, no matter who or what circumstances.”
PI: Did you play any other sports growing up?
IS: I played soccer for about a year and I was around six or seven, but other than that, it's all been basketball.
PI: For those who aren’t familiar with your game, what are your greatest strengths and playstyle?
IS: I think my biggest strength is my ability to shoot the ball in catch-and-shoot situations, off-the-dribble situations, live-ball situations and also creating my own shot when defenders overplay me. I have a high IQ for the game, play with a lot of skill and feel which allows me to use ball screens as well and make decisions off being a primary ball handler or secondary ball handler and just making the right read every time I touch the ball. So those are my strengths.
PI: Who do you model your game after or study on film?
IS: I watch a lot of Klay Thompson, Tyler Herro, Devin Booker, those kinds of 2-guards, and they’re really skilled. They really can shoot the ball and I kind of like watching them to model my game after them, see what I can add, and all that kind of stuff. You know, you’re not always gonna have the ball in your hands so you need to be effective without it, as well.
PI: What do you feel you still need to improve on the most? What have you been working on?
IS: Right. First of all, I'm trying to get stronger, you know, bigger and stronger. And also work on my finishing package around the rim, finishing over taller defenders, finishing through contact and I feel like those two things will really help me at the next level.
PI: What are your short term goals you have for yourself as a player?
IS: Definitely to win OSBA next year — so win our league and be a BioSteel MVP next year. So I think those two are goals I’m really geared towards.
PI: Describe this past season at Fort Erie International Academy playing in the OSBA and The Grind Session.
IS: The experience was great. It's always competitive wherever we go. OSBA has a lot of talented teams, a lot of talented players as well as Grind Session so we get the best of both worlds in Canada and in the US. So you can never take a moment off, take a play off because there's always someone watching. There’s always tons of exposure so playing in front of bright lights, playing in that atmosphere, playing competitively, it really helps people to just lock in, focus and you have to be on your game all the time, so it's good for competitors like myself who like to challenge themselves and like to to win so yeah, it's been great.
PI: With UPLAY, you guys earned a Peach Jam berth through the EYCL this year. What has been the mindset heading into the July live period?
IS: So I feel like we can shock a lot of teams at Peach Jam. You know, obviously we did really well in EYCL and EYBL has a lot of amazingly talented teams as well, but I feel like our group of guys with UPLAY and Coach Charles, Coach Steve, and Coach Ramage as our coaches as well as the guys we have were super competitive. We play with a lot of heart and I feel like we can shock a lot of teams who don't think we belong and we can actually shock the league and do something historical that Canada maybe has never done before.
PI: What has been the most memorable moment on the road with the guys?
IS: Yeah, for sure. It's always fun traveling wherever we go because we're always together. Lots of jokes. Lots of laughter. But I would say the funniest thing that happened was when we were all in the bus and we started playing with water guns a little bit and hanging with different age groups so people started to fight with each other and just having a fun time, just messing around with each other and those kinds of things always just make you happy, make you smile, make you laugh. Those are the memories that are going to carry on when you obviously go past this AAU season and basketball — so those are the times.
PI: What is one of the biggest takeaways from participating in FIBA competition with Canada Basketball?
IS: First and foremost, being able to represent that country is the utmost honor. It's truly a privilege to represent where you're from in your home country, but one of my biggest takeaways is that basketball has become a global game. It's not just the US, it's not just Canada, but everywhere in the world. You know, Africa, Europe, these places have really tough, physical, skilled guys who can do everything. So you know, we have to always stay locked in because it's not just North America now, it's a global game. So it just opened my eyes to the world of basketball that's obviously grown.
PI: Who has been the toughest individual matchup you’ve ever faced on the international stage?
IS: I would say France. Those guys were tough, but as a player, you have to play against the best so it’s always fun to play against tough teams like that and tough matchups like that. But on a personal level I would say like my old teammates like Leonard Miller, Jaden Clayton and going at those guys every day in practice last year — that was really tough and really fun to do, as well.
PI: What’s your recruitment update? Who have you been hearing from the most, lately?
IS: So we got a lot of love from Virginia Tech and Wyoming and also some Ivy League schools like Princeton, Harvard and Yale. Those are the programs who are talking to me the most and I'm super grateful for them.
PI: Did you have a dream school growing up?
IS: Honestly, not really. I enjoyed watching Duke, but honestly, now it's like whatever is the best fit I would go to, but not really a dream school.
PI: What will ultimately be your deciding factors when making your choice?
IS: Yeah, it's just somewhere where the coaching staff and the team can just keep it real with me and not have to sugarcoat anything. You know, just hold me accountable and hold me to the highest standard and allow me to play through my mistakes and grow as a player and have a culture where I can come in and I can make an impact from day one and I can contribute to winning from day one. I want everything to be earned and I want a place where I can grow as a player each day.
PI: What are your biggest interests outside of basketball?
IS: I like solving Rubik's Cubes — I can solve those. I listen to music. Playing pool. I like playing pool a lot. Yeah, that's basically it.
PI: What is the fastest time you've ever solved the Rubik's Cube?
IS: I can do it in under a minute, probably. That was probably the fastest I could ever do it, but no, I'm not crazy like 5 or 10 seconds. I can't do that.
PI: Who are your favorite music artists?
IS: Drake and Rod Wave right now, probably.
PI: You have one hashtag to describe yourself. What is it?
IS: I would probably say #Underdog. I feel like that represents who I am a lot.
PI: If you weren’t pursuing a career as a professional hooper, what do you think you would choose to do?
IS: Yeah, I think I'd be a sports broadcaster, to be honest — like Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, these guys. You know, stay involved with sports and talk on TV about different sports debates and stuff. I feel like that's really interesting.
PI: Who’s someone you really look up to?
IS: Definitely my brother. I look up to him a lot. I ask him for advice and he's always there for me, so we're super close. So that's probably the person I look up to the most.
PI: Any other siblings besides your brother?
IS: No, just him.
PI: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
IS: Probably when I have to repeat myself. That gets kind of annoying sometimes.
PI: What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
IS: I think the biggest misconception about me is that I come around really social, that I go out a lot, go to parties and stuff like that, but realistically, I'm kind of an introvert. I stay to myself, mind my own business, and I don't really go out. I like to hang out with my friends here and there, but nothing too crazy.
PI: What is your dream NIL deal and why?
IS: It'll probably be Crocs. I wear Crocs a lot. I wore Crocs when my feet were super little as well and they’re super big now. So it's just like a fun NIL deal that I would love to have.
PI: Where do you see yourself in five years?
IS: Definitely in the NBA, and if not the NBA, then playing somewhere professionally and just having a good career, being financially stable where I can help my parents out and just living a happy life with no regrets.
PI: Talk a bit more about your Indian heritage.
IS: Yeah, it’s awesome. I take a huge pride in that because basketball's not really that big in India, yet, so I can represent my country in a sport that's not very popular and maybe kids growing up that look up to me who are Indian or Canadian Indian, they can look up to me and see that these things are possible. “I can work hard. I can be in a similar situation and I can do whatever I want. I don't have to let my background or my race or my heritage or my country affect the things that I want to do.” So I take a lot of pride in that.
PI: Name four words that best describe you.
IS: I would say obsessive, competitive, caring, and charismatic.
PI: At the end of the day, what do you hope to be remembered for?
IS: I would just want to be remembered as someone who used their platform to inspire the next generation of people coming up because I know that basketball is a game at the end of the day. It's just my platform for me to inspire people, especially young kids who are of Indian descent or South Asian descent that maybe look at me and see something that they want to do and see that it's possible. So just inspiring those kinds of kids who really want to do something with basketball or with sports in general. Maybe they're from India where basketball is not the most popular sport. Maybe they can see me and just realize that I can do as well and that's all I can hope for, to be honest, at the end of the day.