Slingers’ two-time MVP Wong goes from flab to fab
Slingers' two-time MVP Wong wants to cap amazing transformation by winning ABL title
SINGAPORE SLINGERS v WESTPORTS MALAYSIA DRAGONS
(Today, 8pm, StarHub TV Ch 203)
Zipping around the court, standing up to bigger opponents and downing three-pointers with ease, Wong Wei Long's transformation from a fat teenager to a two-time Asean Basketball League (ABL) MVP (local) has been remarkable.
"I was overweight at 56kg when I was in Secondary One and had to join the health and fitness club," the Singapore Slingers point guard told The New Paper.
"I missed a session once and was singled out during morning assembly. That episode embarrassed me so much that I put in extra effort to make myself fit and strong."
"I went to the gym and did a lot of weights. This probably restricted my growth in terms of height," added the 1.74m-tall, 77kg Singaporean, who is also a two-time SEA Games bronze medallist with the national team.
"The lack of height is definitely a disadvantage because I can't get to the rim easily.
"But I have learnt to overcome that with a big dose of mental strength. Of course, I also had to work very hard to shoot well from distance.
"When I was younger, I didn't shoot well and I had to go through quite a few stroke changes. It was a long process to cut down the time I took to make 50 three-pointers from 40 minutes to five minutes."
His dedication paid off in 2004, when a then 15-year-old Wong won the under-16 category of Nike's One-on-One Basketball Challenge.
He did it by beating someone who was 26cm taller, proving that skills can be more important than just physical attributes.
Five years later, he joined the Slingers in the ABL while still serving National Service. It proved to be a challenge as he "averaged just one to three points in the first two seasons and wasn't contributing much".
In a bid to improve his numbers, Wong deferred his university enrolment by a year to train and play full-time.
"If you have the chance to play professionally, why not? I have no regrets about that because a sportsman's playing career is short," said the 27-year-old, who looks up to two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, the Phoenix Suns great who makes others around him become better players.
This season, Wong scored 49 threes, which puts him third on the list of three-pointers made.
He is also ranked fifth on the ABL's list of best three-point shooting percentages, converting 35.8 per cent from outside the arc.
He credits two Peirce Secondary School teachers - Chia Teck Hong and Kelwin Koh - for teaching him important life values.
"Because of them, I see a lot of satisfaction in teaching," said Wong.
"I was not good in studies and was in the normal academic stream then, but my aim was to go to a polytechnic, get into Nanyang Technological University and then go through the National Institute of Education to become a teacher."
While he successfully graduated from NTU with an electrical and electronic engineering degree and went on to teach, his current profession does not take place in a classroom, but on court.
In January last year, Wong opened his Scholar Basketball Academy, which is now based at MacPherson Community Club and Singapore Chinese Girls' School.
Last September, he also founded the Elites Basketball League which now has four categories (under-12 mixed gender, u-12, u-14 and u-16) and 30 participating teams.
Despite his business ventures taking off, he is not in a rush to hang up his size-11 Nike Hyperdunks just yet, not when he is at the peak of his playing career with two ABL MVP (local) awards under his belt.
"At 27, I may be considered a veteran in the Slingers squad, but that's because we have a young and talented team," said Wong, who is also a partner of Tenryu Japanese Dining and Teahouse at Dairy Farm Road.
"I feel that I have many more years left in me and, if I'm still able to contribute, I will keep on playing till I'm 35 because there are many more things for us to achieve as a team.
"I feel honoured with the MVP recognition, but I wouldn't have won it without my teammates.
"We have a great team who have gone through ups and downs in the past, and we want to go all out to cap this memorable season by winning the championship."
Slingers bank on defence
This is the biggest weekend for the Singapore Slingers and the Westports Malaysia Dragons, two teams who have never won the Asean Basketball League title.
With the best-of-five finals series locked at 1-1, either side can lift the trophy by winning both Games Three and Four tomorrow and Sunday at the 2,500-seater OCBC Arena Hall 1.
If there is a need for Game Five, it will be played at Kuala Lumpur's Maba Stadium tomorrow week.
"Winning the title will be a stepping stone for Singapore basketball in terms of increasing the level of interest in the sport, raising the profile of the Slingers and the national team, and inspiring kids to pick up basketball and play at a high level," Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang told The New Paper.
Tickets have been selling like hotcakes - Game Three is sold out - and Neo dismissed the notion that his players will feel the pressure to deliver.
"Individual players may have jitters but warming up properly will take the nerves away," said the 47-year-old. "Although this is the first time we made it to the Finals, we are not playing in a packed OCBC Arena for the first time.
"The national team players also played in front of big crowds during the SEA Games and did well to win bronze.
"We have also played in and won in places like Vietnam and Malaysia where the fans can really go wild, so our players are ready.
"In any case, I believe the home fans can will us on to greater heights.
"By shouting 'defence, defence' along with the bench, it serves as a great motivation for the team to know that we are all in this together.
"We have good momentum, we won Game One away, we are training well. I hope we can take this momentum to the game and get the job done."
Once again, the Slingers will be looking to play good defence against the Dragons who have scored more than 80 points on average in the last two games.
"If we play defence as a team, the offence will take care of itself," said Neo, who was voted this season's Coach of the Year.
"We have to improve our shooting percentage from Game Two. We cannot be shooting 32.4 per cent and losing to a team shooting 38.9 per cent.
"We also have to rebound well. In Game Two, they had 15 more boards than us. As a rough gauge, if you multiply each rebound by two points, that's a 30-point difference."
Meanwhile, the Dragons are looking to stop the Slingers' American duo Justin Howard, who grabbed 43 points, 22 rebounds and 14 assists in two games, and Xavier Alexander (48 points, 25 rebounds and six assists).
Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia said: "We have worked on our transition defence because we haven't really stopped Howard and Alexander in the last two games.
"We also have to do a better job with their guards because they killed us in Game One.
"We are focusing on Game Three for now, and everything will follow. The Slingers got what they wanted last weekend by winning Game One, and we have to get it back, so this is a must-win for us really."
Dragons' ABL MVP (world import), big centre Reginald Johnson told the ABL website: "Revenge. They stole one in Malaysia. It's revenge time. That's it. We want Game Three.
"This is a five-game series. Their job was to try win one in Malaysia and they did. Now it's our turn to go to Singapore and try to win two, but definitely one."