Wu Qingde

Boys to key men: The three players who kept faith with the Singapore Slingers

Singapore Slingers players Desmond Oh (left), Wu Qingde (centre) and Wong Wei Long.
Singapore Slingers players Desmond Oh (left), Wu Qingde (centre) and Wong Wei Long. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

While the majority of budding basketball players dream of playing like NBA superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, Singapore Slingers forward Wu Qingde prefers to play like... Shane Battier.

Retired forward Battier was not just known for his aggressive defence for the Miami Heat, but also for occasionally stepping up in scoring.

"Players like Shane are role players. It's more realistic to learn from this guy, who's like an underdog, to see and learn how these people can contribute to the team," said Wu.

 
 

The 23-year-old has had a stellar breakthrough season, emerging as one of the key players who have aided the Slingers' title push.

Previously known for his defensive contributions from the bench, Wu has developed into a sharpshooting asset in his third Asean Basketball League (ABL) season with the Slingers, with a penchant for clutch three-pointers.

He finished the regular season with the highest three-point field goal percentage (43.1), and was even named ABL Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks in January.

Wu's eye for the basket stemmed from his limitations as a power forward. Standing at 1.83m, he was considered undersized compared to other power forwards in the ABL, who are at least 1.9m tall.

"Back then I could only drive and rebound, so they just backed off, inviting me to shoot. After the first two seasons, I decided that enough was enough," said Wu.

"I think having a good range is one of the things to have in my arsenal so that I have more threat, so I practised every single day, even after training."

Eager to make up for his size disadvantage, he took guidance from team-mates Ng Hanbin and Wong Wei Long, once completing 500 made baskets in a day with the former.

Because he hates to be second, his desire to always be on top also resonated throughout his secondary school years.

Despite initially being a volleyball player and only joining in basketball games to be "cool", he was dismayed when two of his team-mates were selected for national youth team trials during Secondary 2, an incident that spurred the competitive fire in him.

Striving to improve his game ever since, Wu forced his way into the Under-18 Singapore Combined Schools team, participating in overseas tournaments like the 2008 Pacific School Games and the 2010 Asean School Games. He was eventually called up to the national team when he was 19.

Perhaps fittingly, his resolve to excel came in handy during Game 1 of the ABL Finals against Westports Malaysia Dragons, when he sank a late three-pointer to secure a crucial 84-80 away win.

With the Slingers struggling because of shooting profligacy in their 72-90 loss in Game Three (31 per cent of field goal attempts made), Wu, who top-scored for them with 19 points, will need to step up again in tonight's must-win Game Four.

Slingers assistant coach Michael Johnson is not surprised by Wu's improvement, saying: "He's such a hard worker, and is always the first to start training and the last to leave. It would be great if we had 10 players with the same work ethic."

His rise to prominence is all the more remarkable, considering he is juggling training with full-time National Service, where he is an air operations specialist.

Despite the physical and mental challenge of combining both roles, Wu said that NS has actually made him more humble.

Referring to his two individual accolades in January, he said: "I didn't even have time to let the feeling soak in, as I had to go back to work the next day.

"But it keeps me grounded and humble. If you're humble you'll try to learn more things. I was happy (with the awards), but I didn't let the success go to my head."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Shooting prowess adds to all-round solidity'. Print Edition | Subscribe