'Big brother' Wong ready to pass the mantle
National basketballer confident Singapore's next generation can rival regional powerhouses Philippines
The New Paper continues the countdown to the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur with a look at the old and new faces in various sports. Today, we feature national basketball players WONG WEI LONG and DELVIN GOH
That was how Wong Wei Long described the local basketball scene when he first made the step up to the senior national team as an 18-year-old, over a decade ago.
"The local basketball scene (in 2006) was atrocious," recalled Wong, 28, in a recent interview with The New Paper reflecting on his journey in the sport, and his hopes for it in the future.
"We had only a few players at each training session.
"We couldn't get everyone to train as a unit because of work commitments.
"But some players, veterans like Michael Wong and Pathman (Matialakan)... always remained committed.
"I was so inspired by how they carried themselves during training, and off court.
"Eventually, we managed to establish a team that could play competitive basketball for Singapore in the region."
The sport has since grown from strength to strength, and back-to-back bronze medals at the SEA Games are testament to the improvement.
A big reason for local basketball's rise, according to Wong, was the formation of the Singapore Slingers, a professional team that began to compete in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) in 2009.
The 1.74m-tall point guard, who is renowned for his long-range shooting ability and agility, said: "The Slingers have been a great platform for me and my generation.
"Even now, the Slingers are a platform for our young athletes to develop their skills and gain exposure.
"Being part of this team, I learnt how to handle pressure and become a leader on court.
"I learnt through failure... Nothing comes easy."
Wong's star has risen along with the growth of Singapore basketball.
The local basketball scene (in 2006) was atrocious. Wong Wei Long on how the Singaporean basketball scene has changed since he made his national team debut as an 18-year-old 32 THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2017
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
He is the only Singaporean to win the ABL Most Valuable Player award (for local players), winning it twice (in the 2014 and 2015/16 seasons).
Wong is also the first Singaporean to win the Most Valuable Player award in an international competition, at the 2013 Seaba Stankovic Cup.
His achievements have helped raise the profile of the sport here, and he is seen by the younger heads in the national team as a player who paved the way for them.
"From secondary school onwards, you'd have to know Wei Long," said centre Delvin Goh, 22.
"He's one of the best-known players in our basketball scene and has been around for a long time.
"He's definitely a trailblazer."
Goh is making waves in his own right, after he became Singapore basketball's first export, when he joined Yuwang East Malaysia Basketball League side Beruang Blazers last year.
The 2.02m-tall Goh said he still sees Wong as a "big brother".
"On court, he's really serious," he said. "But off the court, he's a joker and motivates us (younger players).
"And, whenever we do something wrong, he talks things out with us."
Playing the role of mentor seems to come naturally to Wong.
In 2015, he opened the Scholar Basketball Academy in the hope of discovering and developing more young talent.
He said: "I want to bring everyone together, especially the younger generation.
"If I see a point guard with potential, I'm more than willing to teach them everything I've learnt.
"They can probably be even better than I am right now."
As the SEA Games draws near, Wong's hopes for Singapore basketball goes beyond just the squad's goal of reaching the final.
While the Philippines are the region's powerhouses - they have won all but one of 18 SEA Games basketball gold medals - Wong believes the next generation of Singapore players can rival them.
Wong, who will compete in his fourth SEA Games this year, also hopes Singapore can regularly compete in the Fiba Asia Cup - Asia's biennial, pre-eminent basketball competition - which they have qualified for just once (2015) since 1993.
He said: "I want to create more programmes and leagues - a local professional league for the younger generation to play and improve in, for example.
"If you don't give up, nothing is impossible."
MEN: Lyon Chia, Delvin Goh, John Ng, Johrathon Cheok, Leon Kwek, Larry Liew, Lim Jun Yuan, Russel Low, Mitchell Folkoff, Ng Hanbin, V Lavin Raj, Wong Wei Long.
WOMEN: Pauline Ang, Ariel Loiter, Jacqueline Chu, Koh Wei Bin, Lim Jia Min, Alanna Lim, Amanda Lim, Cheryl Poon, Shermaine See, Jayne Tan, Tang Choy Ting, Yoshida Yukie.
PERFORMANCE AT 2015 SEA GAMES
One bronze (men’s team)