Desmond Oh

Love for the game set his path to becoming a team leader

Singapore Slingers player Desmond Oh.
Singapore Slingers player Desmond Oh.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

His distinctive hair makes him recognisable from a distance, and his tireless harrying style makes him a formidable opponent on the court.

Desmond Oh, 29, is one of the senior members of the Singapore Slingers, having been with them since the Asean Basketball League (ABL)'s inaugural season in 2009.

A role model for emerging players, he is - along with team-mate Ng Hanbin - one of just two local professional basketball players.

Oh, who captains the team, was not exactly a shining example back in his teenage years. But almost to emphasise his own turnaround, the fiery reddish-brown hair might be the only visible attribute he has retained from his youth.

When he was 13, his father had a dreadful traffic accident that caused serious injuries to his lungs and kidney, and crushed his legs.

His father, whom he was close to, was in a coma for two years and his parents divorced shortly after.

Oh drifted from his family, mixed in bad company and became a gang member.

But he got involved in basketball at school that same year and his passion for the sport saved him from falling deeper into the abyss.

"My (basketball team) coach told me that unless I stopped all my nonsense, he would kick me out of the school team... I loved basketball so much, I agreed to change," said the Swiss Cottage Secondary School alumnus.

The sport gave him a new perspective on life, and he went on to assume the captain's role for both the national team and Slingers in 2012.

For the soft-spoken guard, being handed the role came as a surprise. Filled with self-doubt, he said: "I didn't expect it because I wasn't really a leader, and I don't like to talk a lot. I was like a lost child.

"Coach Neo (Beng Siang) and my seniors taught me what to do, along with encouragement from my team-mates. Slowly, it got better."

Oh went on to lead the national team to two SEA Games bronze medals in 2013 and 2015, the first basketball medals for the Republic in the event since 1979.

His responsibilities have since extended beyond the court, after marrying his girlfriend Yvonne last year and fathering their four-month old son Denzel Prince.

With "10-cent, 20-cent holes" in his worn-out knee cartilages, and a slower recovery rate due to his age, he originally intended to stop playing professionally after the current season.

Yet with the Slingers still gunning for their first-ever ABL title, Oh, who lists the half-court basket against Thailand at last year's SEA Games as the highlight of his career, cheekily hinted that he will stay on for another season.

He said: "This season's success wasn't really expected. I want to do it another time and continue having that feeling of winning."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Love for the game set his path to becoming a team leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe