After ripping apart the Westports Malaysia Dragons by an 18-point margin of victory in the Malaysia Hoops Challenge, Wong Wei Long and his teammates quickly packed their belongings and found a corner to sit at to cool themselves off.
Wong had just finished the game with 11 points, complemented with six dimes and five steals. Despite his absence from recent ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) competition, he still looks every bit the part that fans have come to recognize him for: quick and decisive on every possession. At the same time, he also remains vocal, facilitating Singaporean-side, Adroit Basketball Club, into an ideal pace.
As the two of us sat down behind the bench at MABA Stadium, I asked how the sweat-drenched Wong was doing since taking a break from the ABL and the Singapore Slingers during the past 12 months. The first thing that came out of his mouth was an expression of his character as a player both on-and-off the court.
“First of all, I just want to say thank you to the Slingers as they have given me a lot of opportunities to play in the ABL, against top teams in our region,” said Wong as he continued to try and cool down.
“In my eighth season, I decided to take a break from professional sports, and decided to pursue my career. I actually set up a basketball academy four years ago, and recently, I’ve just been busy taking care of my parents, my students, and business you know,” continued the Singaporean national team starting point guard.
For many professional athletes, it’s not an easy task to simply just walk away from the game you love, and especially for Wong, who had already established himself as an elite point guard in the ABL.
But he has bigger aspirations and a deeper vision, hoping to achieve those goals not just for himself, but for the country he loves so dearly.
“I’M TRYING TO GIVE THEM [STUDENTS] THE BEST PROGRAM THAT I CAN CREATE, AND ALSO TO DEVELOP MORE ELITE PLAYERS FOR SINGAPORE.”
The two-time ABL Local MVP founded Scholar Basketball Academy with the mission of creating an environment for people who enjoy sports so that they can be able to continue their playing career with values which are taught and learned straight from the court.
“We all came together, you know, often having meetings to create a program for the students, who are as young as four years old, and students who are 19 and above, they will be considered as graduates from my academy,” shared Wong.
“After that, they can choose to pursue a path with Adroit basketball team, or just stay and train with us, because, we’re open for all ages.”
He then went on further in describing how he integrates his own professional basketball experiences into the program, hoping it could serve as knowledge not generally accessible for youngsters.
“As you know, I play the position of point guard and I do want to share my knowledge and experience with all these students, and hopefully, there will be another taller point guard for Singapore in the near future, you know, I’m too short,” laughingly said the 5’9” point guard.
I couldn’t help but laugh along with him, knowing all too well about his heart-over-height mentality, capable of destroying opponents with his mental toughness and resiliency. His demeanor is very reminiscent of the great Allen Iverson, with some fans dubbing him as the “Singapore Assassin.”
After sharing the laugh together, Wong turned back to a more serious tone, recalling the scene from four years prior and being grateful with where he is right now.
“I started this academy with just one student, and it slowly grew to about one hundred students to this point in time.”
He continued by expressing how he misses playing in the ABL.
“That’s where I have been for the past seven years, so I definitely miss the league, you know. But I feel like my career comes first, and also Adroit Sports Club has given us a grat opportunity to play, like Leon [Kwek], Qing Huang, and some of the up-and-rising stars, so I’m very happy.”
Once again, the point guard showed his gratitude for all the memories he made with the people who showed faith in him when he was younger.
“Anyway, I totally enjoyed the experience with the Slingers and that definitely gives me a lot of opportunities. The same goes to the Basketball Association of Singapore. Without them, I doubt if I could share this much knowledge to my students, so I want to give a big thank you to these two organizations,” expressed Wong.
When asked about the performance of the Slingers in eighth season of the ABL, Wong was nothing but proud of his former teammates. Though he may not have the luxury of watching their games live at OCBC Arena, he still keeps track of the team whenever time permits.
“I’m always proud of the team,” said Wong. “I’m proud of X [Xavier Alexander], and I’ve always been proud of Han Bin, Desmond, Delvin, and Russ just to name a few. They all contributed a lot of good minutes last season.”
The 30-year-old continued by saying, “I do watch the games online, but I can’t really watch the games live because of my work commitment, but I think it was definitely a good season for them. Delvin was remarkable alongside Han Bin last season, breakthroughs for their careers you know.”
The Slingers have yet to win themselves a championship, but with the ABL’s new import rules and the team’s well-rounded team strategy, they can never be counted out of the conversation.
Wong remains positive about his former team and is hopeful that they can get their first championship.
“You know, they have come a long way, especially for Desmond. He is my brother and I just want to wish him all the best and to stay healthy in the new season.”
“I’M ALWAYS PROUD OF MY BROTHERS, AND I STILL GET TO SEE THEM EVERY NOW AND THEN. ALWAYS BEEN PROUD OF THE FAMILY, MY HEART AND SOUL WILL ALWAYS BE WITH THEM, AND I WISH THEM ALL THE BEST FOR THE COMING SEASON.”
In fact, Wong is now considered a semi-professional basketball player, where he is able to tend for his basketball academy while also playing with Adroit in tournaments such as the Malaysia Hoops Challenge.
The arrangement seems like an ideal situation, as it allows him to still play the game he loves, while juggling other aspects of his busy life simultaneously.
“As you know, we are also going to participate in the Thailand Basketball Super League [TBSL], and I will be playing there as well,” shared Wong. “The league gives me a lot of flexibility, you know. Each trip, we train from Tuesday to Thursday, then we fly on Friday night, play on Saturday and Sunday, come back to Singapore at around 1:30 am, and then we can all go back to our normal lives the next day.”
According to him, the current group of guys have been playing together for quite some time, and they are all aiming to make some noise come the 2019 TBSL season.
“I think for us, it’s about managing our own timing and the bonding that we’ve created the past few years is amazing, so I’m looking forward to playing in the TBSL and seeing a lot of familiar faces like Jason Brickman, and now, I get to see Chris Eversley here in Malaysia again.”
Both Wong and Leon Kwek shared a friendly chat with Malaysia’s residential import before the game. It was a display of great sportsmanship among competitors, as on the court, Eversley exchanged trash talk with Kwek, but following their battle, the trio were seen high-fiving and congratulating one another.
“I’m very appreciative of those kinds of opportunities, and yeah, I’m glad that I’m here,” expressed a smiling Wong.
As for fans, the Singaporean guard has hinted a return to the court sooner than expected, especially one his basketball academy can operate steadily.
“You’ll probably see me play in Thailand more often, and also in Malaysia for those [pocket] tournaments, so you’ll see me in these two places for competition. Hopefully, next year, if my time is flexible, I can play in both the TBL and TBSL, you know, just take a three month break from work and play.”
As we began wrapping things up, the Slinger alum made sure that I record one last thing. It would act as an opportunity for him to share a few personal words to his beloved fans from around the region.
“I just want to let the fans know that I miss those days where I was able to play a sport professionally in front of them, but you will get to see me soon. I will always be around the region. I’m gonna keep playing, you know, my legs are still young, so don’t worry. I will be around the scene, and just say ‘Hi’ to me whenever you see me and I will surely say ‘Hi’ back to you as well. If you give me a high five, I will be the first one to reach out to you and I wish the fans all the best too.”
It was in this short interview that I was given a better idea about Wong, one of the key players of the Dragons’ fiercest rival. He may be one of the toughest guys on the court, unafraid of showing his emotions and swagger in front of hostile away crowds, but he is also a humble individual who is willing to share his knowledge to younger teammates, displaying nothing but professionalism off the court.
You may not see the Singaporean Assassin wearing a Slingers jersey any longer, but be sure to catch him in an Adroit uniform playing as if he never took a break from the court, and who knows, we may even see him don additional jerseys in the future, because for Wong, the grind never stops.