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Gokul Natesan's Grind: From Studying Computer Science to Playing Professional Basketball
"I believe that losing the biggest games on the court are the times when I’ve learned a lot about myself. How a person responds when they encounter “failure” is a good measure of their character."
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host
Canada
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Photo Credit: Vera Suihko (@veraolivia)

Gokul Natesan grew in a small town sandwiched between Santa Clara and Cupertino, the Apple headquarters and was the first person in the Natesan family to be born in the USA. In college, Gokul had to find the balance between studying software and practicing daily for basketball which was quite a grind. He has played professional basketball since finishing college and currently plays in Finland's top league.

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Growing up in a Tamil household where typically the focus is on academics versus sports, how did you convince your parents that you wanted to play sports?

When I was younger my parents heavily encouraged me to play all sports. They were very big on the importance of extracurricular activities in general as they felt it developed qualities not stressed in a classroom. As a kid, I played any sport that I had interest in but that eventually narrowed down to basketball. 

How did you balance the demands of being in a computer science program and playing college basketball?

It was a big time commitment having to manage these two tasks. Studying computer science, you quickly realize that there are a lot of time-consuming projects and difficult courses. Balancing that with the responsibilities that come with playing college basketball, you have to be extremely dedicated. I felt the biggest thing was to set daily goals and accomplish them so I wouldn’t get behind in my classes. With that being said, there were still plenty of long nights where I would be up late finishing an assignment. 

Any advice for the younger generation who want to be a professional basketball player?

I think it’s important for younger kids to simply enjoy the game and develop their passion for playing basketball. As they get older and have ambitions to play at a higher level, I’d say to focus on getting better every day and putting in the time to improve. 

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What are your plans for post-basketball life? 

Ideally, I would be a professional esports gamer but that’s not happening any time soon. The reasonable choice would be to do something in sports or tech given my background. However, I am still unsure as to what exactly my plans are. 

What is a failure you’ve experienced in the last 5-10 years that you’ve learned the most from?

I believe that losing the biggest games on the court are the times when I’ve learned a lot about myself. How a person responds when they encounter “failure” is a good measure of their character.  

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

I’m not really too concerned about a personal legacy because if you try to be the best version of yourself, things will turn out just fine. 

Photo Credit - Katariina Ojala @katariina.ojala

Who is one person from the global Tamil community and one person that isn’t Tamil that you admire and why? 

Vish Anand is a Tamil chess player who has really perfected his craft. It takes a lot of discipline and patience to become a chess grandmaster and win world championships. I respect the commitment and dedication he has for his sport.  

Someone who I have a lot of admiration for is Bruce Lee. He’s well-known for his martial arts skills, but what sticks out for me was the mental preparation, mindset, and resilience he had. His influence extends off the movie screen where he gave valuable insights on his approach to life. He’s a cultural icon for many people and changed the perception of Asian culture.  

What do you think you would tell 16-year Gokul looking back?

I would tell him to enjoy life and embrace the journey. I’d also tell him to work on those cooking skills. 

What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?

A few years ago I cleaned up my diet and really made sure I was eating healthy. This helped me on the court a lot as my body felt better during games and recovered faster. 

How would you describe the Tamil community in the Bay area and the impact they’ve had on you personally?

The Bay Area Tamil community does an incredible job of promoting Tamil culture and raising awareness on issues faced by Tamils around the world. I’ve been around this group nearly my whole life as my parents have been heavily involved in cultural events throughout the years. I remember going to Tamil classes as a little kid where I learned how to read and write in Tamil. There are numerous organizations that help educate people on Tamil history and have been a positive influence on a lot of kids from that area including myself. 

What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?

This might be the toughest question you’ve asked. We’ve got plenty of options to choose from but I would probably have to go with sambar vadai. Whether I’ve had it at home, on a beach in Chennai, or on a street corner in Jaffna it never disappoints.  

What is your favourite Tamil movie?

I don’t have a favorite movie. Usually, I try to watch critically acclaimed films that typically revolve around social and political issues in South Asian society. 

What does Tamil culture mean to you?

Being Tamil is my identity, it’s who I am. I grew up in a household where Tamil culture was a big part of my life. And if I had to narrow it down, Tamil culture is about respect. Regardless of a person’s background, it’s important to be courteous, polite, and understanding of all people. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have met Tamils across the world while playing basketball and it’s incredible how warm and receptive they are. 

 

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host | TamilCulture
Canada
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