The Singapore Slingers (in white) took on Indonesia’s Laskar Dreya in their first home game of the ASEAN Basketball League season. (Photo by VoxSports)
Nine years ago, Singapore did not have a single professional basketballer, let alone a fully-professional basketball team.
Then it all changed, with the Singapore Slingers franchise starting up in 2006.
The first professional basketball team to be based in Singapore, the team has since undergone several upheavals; from participating in Australia’s professional National Basketball League before switching to the current ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) to compete with teams from the Southeast Asia region.
Part of the changes included having more local players within the roster, as was witnessed during the Slingers’ 2014 ABL’s campaign opener where they earned a 62-46 win over Indonesia’s Laskar Dreya South Sumatra.
Of the ten players who featured in the win, seven were Singaporeans. One stood out, as he held off a bigger physique player to grab a defensive rebound.
Making his professional basketball and official Slingers’ debut, the 21-year-old Russel Low was immense in the centre, as he did not let the situation overawe him and instead played 24 minutes to grab six rebounds and scored two points.
Singapore Slingers debutant 21-year-old Russel Low. (Photo by VoxSports)
For Russel, he will be the first to admit that this opportunity was a ’dream come true’ since he started playing the sport at the age of 11. The chance was too good to miss that he is taking a gap-year off before commencing his undergraduate studies at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) next year.
“It was hard juggling studies and basketball prior to entering university because I had to go school in the morning and then at night I will practise, so it’s really difficult to manage the time,” Russel shared.
“So I decided to take a gap year to play full-time. My parents are very supportive even though they were doubtful at first, but for me there are not many who can pursue sports professionally in Singapore, and I would like to just take a year to do what I like and see where it takes me to.”
While some may question Russel’s decision to put his studies on hold, his teammate Wong Wei Long perfectly understands why the former did so, having made the same choice himself prior to the start of his engineering studies at NTU.
Having been with the Slingers for five years, Wei Long is one of the most experienced local players within the squad.
Singapore Slingers' Wong Wei Long in action during the Slingers' first home game. (Photo by VoxSports)
Citing his signing for the Slingers as the best achievement he has in basketball, Wei Long explained how he had to juggle his undergraduate studies with his love for the sport.
“Slingers gave me all the exposure I had, and I appreciate what the management has done for the national squad,” the 26-year-old said.
“It is tough, but I endure. When people are sleeping, I am studying at night, be it 2am, 3am. That’s how I been through my past four semesters in NTU. I struggle but I still managed to pass all my subjects.”
Even though the point-guard had an average game by his own standards, and only managed two points during his 21 minutes of play in the game on Sunday’s game, Wei Long understands that he has a part to play in guiding the likes of Russel and others in order to help them grow as basketballers.
“Last time when I first came in, the people guiding me were 30-odd-year-olds. So now it is my turn to do it and I am trying to do it. I am the second oldest in terms of the local players, so there is a long process for me to try and share the experience I had,” the aspiring teacher said.
Sunday’s game also saw newbie Larry Liew making his debut, where the 21-year-old acquitted himself well with eight points, and the Team Singapore’s ballers are confident that such performances in the ABL will stand them in good stead at the Southeast Asian Games 2015.
“It would give us more exposure in international competition level, and it would bring up our intensity and get us ready for the SEA Games next year,” Russel asserted. “I would get stronger and more confident.”
The Slingers will duel with Causeway rivals Westports Malaysia Dragons in their next game on 27 July, Sunday at the Sports Hub, OCBC Arena. The public can cheer on Russel and company as they continue their journey to improve and attain glory along the way.