Singapore Slingers in a strong position to win Asean basketball title
Slingers star Desmond Oh's greatest move? Turning from gangster to national skipper
REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR
FINALS, GAME 2
WESTPORTS MALAYSIA DRAGONS v SINGAPORE SLINGERS
(Today, 5.25pm, StarHub TV Ch 203)
● Slingers lead best-of-five series 1-0.
The word "turnover" is loathed in basketball, but Singapore Slingers and national captain Desmond Oh does not mind it, because that's exactly what the sport has helped him to achieve.
Oh and his Slingers outfit are in the driver's seat in the Asean Basketball League Finals, leading 1-0 in the best-of-five series going into today's second away encounter here against the Westport Malaysia Dragons.
"We are like a family, we've got each other's back. I really hope we can go all the way and win the championship," he said.
Oh's is a remarkable tale of turning over a new leaf.
Before the 29-year-old shooting guard became a harrier on the court, he was a terror in school.
When he was 13, Oh's father met with a horrific traffic accident, crashing his lorry into a tree while trying to avoid a learner driver's car.
He suffered bad injuries to his lung and kidney and his right leg was shortened by a few centimetres after surgery.
Not long after, his parents divorced and soon, Oh started mixing with bad company.
"I was not just an Ah Beng, I became a gang member and I would loiter around, smoke, drink and start fights," he told The New Paper.
"It got so bad that the CID's secret society branch (SSB) came to our school to round up all the gangsters."
Oh was let off with a warning, but it could have been worse if not for his love of basketball and an uncompromising threat from Zhong You Sheng, his coach at Swiss Cottage Secondary School
He said: "My coach told me that unless I stopped all my nonsense, he would kick me out of the school team... I loved basketball so much, I agreed to change.
"Thankfully, the SSB operation was so effective, all my gang leaders were arrested and I could make a clean break."
Oh started basketball late, in Secondary 1, when he was actually a sprinter. He explained: "The basketball team saw that I was quick, so they pulled me in.
"I played my first competitive match when we were already winning by a big margin.
"I was so happy when I made my first basket and after that I really wanted to play more, so I practised day and night to the point that I neglected my studies.
"Coach Zhong saw my passion and spent more time to train me individually. I managed to work my way into the first five the next year and helped my school to fourth place in both the West Zone and national competitions.
"In Sec 3, I was called up to the national junior squad and made it into the national team when I was 18."
Today, Oh and Ng Hanbin are two local professionals on the Slingers roster.
Coach Neo Beng Siang appointed him captain of both the Slingers and the national team in 2012. He was part of the 2013 and 2015 SEA Games bronze medal-winning sides, delivering Singapore's first basketball medals in the event since 1979.
He married In February last year and is now a father to a four-month-old son.
His fierce commitment to the game has come at a cost - his knee cartilages have worn out to the point that "there are ten-cent, twenty-cent holes", and he wears dentures for his two lost front teeth, one of which he lost after falling on his face and the other to a stray elbow.
Initially, he did not get his mother's blessings to pursue the sport further.
He said: "She would say things like, 'You always get injured, and you don't earn much, so why don't you find a proper office job?'
"But after signing professional terms with the Slingers in 2008, I started earning more every year and I gave her some allowance.
"Now, what I earn is enough to feed my family, so my mother started to be more supportive and even goes to our matches to cheer us on.
"My father was more supportive.
"Once, after his accident, he even surprised me by going on a wheelchair to watch me play a national youth competition."
Malaysia Dragons hurt and desperate
Outplayed, outhustled and outcoached in the second half.
Westports Malaysia Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia was gracious and honest in his assessment of his side's 80-84 home loss to the Singapore Slingers in Game 1 of the Asean Basketball League Finals series on Friday.
The Filipino knows what's at stake in today's Game 2, saying: "Give credit to the Slingers for their adjustments in Game 1.
"We didn't do a good job containing Xavier (Alexander, 27 points) and we gave Kris (Rosales, 13) too much space. We've got to limit them and (Justin) Howard because these three take up the bulk of their scoring (64 out of 84 points in Game 1).
Dragons' centre Reggie Johnson knows just what they need to do.
The 26-year-old American said: "In Game 2, we need forward centre, Calvin (Godfrey) to stop Xavier. It's going to be the match-up of the series, man."
Godfrey, 25, did not have one of his best games on Friday, converting just three of his 10 field-goal attempts. Vanguardia said: "Compare that to Alexander's production (27 points), we need Calvin to play better and avoid unnecessary fouls.
"It's not just him, everyone on court needs to step up as a team. Both teams are evenly matched as proven in the regular season. They can beat us here and we can beat them in Singapore.
"We will bounce back because we have to make this a series."
- DAVID LEE