Only one kidney functioning, but cager Hanbin has great heart
After bronze in 2013, he's hoping for even better at this year's SEA Games
Sprint. Jump. Bump. Stretch.
Day and night, 10 times a week.
At one stage they all seemed beyond Ng Hanbin, whose hopes of pursuing a basketball career looked as if it would be only a pipe dream.
With only one functioning kidney - the other failed at age three - the rigours of the game were apparently too dangerous for him.
But, in a remarkable show of resilience, courage and determination, Ng is set to play a key role in the men's national team as they battle for a medal at the SEA Games in Singapore from June 5 to 16.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, the 26-year-old said: "Because of my condition, after training or matches, I can't take protein powder and recovery supplements.
"So I can only spend more time in the gym to bulk up. I need to stay hydrated, but I also have to be careful not to over-hydrate."
A friend introduced Ng to the game when he was nine.
Even though his one good kidney was functioning well, doctors at the time warned that contact sports were dangerous because of the knocks and the possibility of injuries.
But, going against medical advice and without the consent of his parents, Ng chased his basketball dream.
At 17, he was called up to the national youth team.
In 2006, Ng played in his first international match against Western Australia and the Singaporeans lost by almost 100 points.
But the shooting guard kept improving and was rewarded when the country's first professional basketball club, the Singapore Slingers, gave him his debut in 2010 in the fledgling Asean Basketball League.
It all seemed to be going well, but in 2013, Ng nearly gave it all up after his platelet count reached dangerously low levels when tonsillitis struck.
"I also suffered from tendonitis in my knee and, when I was playing, I wasn't playing well. It looked like I wouldn't make the cut for the SEA Games (2013 Myanmar Games). After all these setbacks, I just thought it was a sign to quit," said Ng.
The devout Christian prayed and decided to give it one last shot, attending a training camp in China with the national team even though he wasn't fit.
He did well enough to make the cut, and went on to be a key member of the team that broke a 34-year Games medal drought by winning bronze in Myanmar.
Everyone was impressed, including Neo Beng Siang, the men's team coach for this year's SEA Games squad.
"Han Bin has really picked up in these last two years. We know about his physical condition and we do monitor him, but his mentality is to push as hard as possible, and we can see his leadership on and off court," said Neo.
Ng's parents, who have attended his matches, will be there at the OCBC Arena to give their support during the SEA Games.
Neo believes home support will be a crucial factor as his team try to upset favourites the Philippines and Thailand.
"We have home court advantage, we have to aim high," said Neo, who has been in charge of the men's national team for 12 years.
"We matched the Philippines two years ago and were tied at half time, but got killed by our one-on-one containment in the second half. So we continue to work on our defence."
Ng added: "Winning the bronze medal for the first time after 34 years was a good stepping stone for us in terms of belief. When you don't see results, you tend to have a lot of doubt.
"Now it's more about what we do ourselves - running the play, good defence, trusting each other, putting what we train on court - than worrying about our opponents."
As preparation for the Games, the men's team will take part in the South-east Asia Basketball Association Championship that tips off on Monday at the OCBC Arena, with teams from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Laos.
They will then head to Australia and the Philippines before the SEA Games basketball competition takes place at the OCBC Arena from June 9 to 15.
- When: June 9-15
- Where: OCBC Arena (ticketed)
- On offer: 2 gold medals
- History: 0 golds, 1 silver, 3 bronzes
- Milestones: women's silver (2003), men's bronze (2013)
- Did you know: Ng Hanbin, Chase Tan, Lim Shengyu and Delvin Goh emerged from a group of more than 200 audition hopefuls to secure parts in actor Tay Ping Hui's directorial debut in movies with Meeting The Giant, which was screened last year.
- The New Paper's medal prediction: The men's team are brimming with confidence and they could beat 2013 silver medallists Thailand to set up a gold-medal fight with the Philippines. The women's team face stiff competition from the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and will have to raise their game to bag a bronze.
Women cagers aim for a podium spot
Compared to the resurgence of their "big brothers", the national women's basketball side have been relatively low-profile, even though the team have a better record at the SEA Games.
While the Singapore men have two bronze medals, the women reached the final in 2003, claiming the silver with the help of five naturalised players from China.
Both teams will feature all-local lineups this year, with the men eyeing a place in the final, while the women are targeting a medal in their first appearance in the competition since 2007.
National women's basketball coach Ng Choon Hong said: "We are happy that our women's team can play at this SEA Games on home ground and we are grateful for the financial support from the authorities that allowed us to have overseas training stints in Taiwan and China.
"In Taiwan, we played eight matches in seven days, and we will also be going to Dongguan, where there is an NBA Training Centre, to play three to four matches a day there for a week.
"We have a team that are made up of working adults and university students, but, despite work commitments and exams, their attitude has been superb and attendance has been close to 100 per cent."
Captain Lim Jiamin added: "In the past, we trained as little as once a week, and attendance was affected by work or school.
"But spurred by the upcoming SEA Games, attendance has improved tremendously even when the training intensity has increased to four times a week.
"The pool of players here is not as big as the men's game, so it was really important for us to be exposed to a high level of competition with the professional clubs."
Assistant coach Hannah Ho, a former national cager who won bronze at the 1985 Games, hopes that the buzz surrounding the women's game will continue well after the SEA Games.
She said: "These players have the potential and I can see them achieving better results if there is enough support for them after the SEA Games."