Seemingly against the odds, success came to Singapore Slingers stalwart Wong Wei Long early in his basketball journey.
At the age of 16, the 1.74m point guard defied his diminutive stature and won Nike's One-on-One Basketball Challenge, emerging victorious against an opponent almost 30cm taller. Describing his surprise win as "the biggest transition in my life," he was then selected for the national under-18 squad.
His trajectory continued. He was hand-picked for overseas training camps such as the adidas Superstar Camp in Beijing in 2006, where he met National Basketball Association superstars like Dwight Howard and T.J. Ford. He also made the step up to the senior national team, and joined the Slingers' developmental squad at 18.
But now, the 27-year-old, despite being well entrenched in local basketball, admits the rapid rise went to his head. He said: "With these achievements, you tend to be arrogant. When I was 19, I did not improve my skills and was stagnant."
The rut lasted about six months, before timely advice from a friend taught him to be "humble".
Wong then started to work on his game, spending seven hours in the gym and court every day, outside of team training. The engineering graduate even deferred his university enrolment by a year to play full-time with the Slingers.
His shooting range also improved dramatically. From taking 45 minutes to finish 50 made baskets, he now needs just five.
He is now known for his reliability at scoring three-pointers, having scored 41 in the ABL regular season to sit third on the list of three-point scorers. Just a week ago, he also won his second successive ABL Most Valuable Player (local) award.
Wong opened his Scholar Basketball Academy last January. From a modest start of eight students, he now has more than 80 private students.
The little man with big ambitions is also a partner of Tenryu Japanese Dining & Teahouse at Dairy Farm Road, and does not rule out owning an ice cream parlour one day.
Yet now, at the peak of his career, he has yet to fulfil his ultimate dream of playing in Taiwan's basketball leagues.
He said: "You can see how much passion they have... but it's impossible to play there unless you're really very good in this region."
As he continues to contribute to local basketball as a player and trainer, Wong is hopeful that his students can pave the way for more Singaporeans to take up professional basketball.
He said: "I love to see how much my (academy's) students improve, and a smile from them always makes my day. Who knows, if I can't play in Taiwan, one of them might be the one to take the step up to the international stage."