SINGAPORE - Wong Wei Long, the Asean Basketball League's two-time Local Most Valuable Player, will make his ABL return - not with the Singapore Slingers but with the CLS Knights Indonesia instead this season.
The Singapore international signed a season-long deal in Surabaya last week and will be based there from Oct 26 to begin his six-month stint.
It is believed that he is the first Singaporean to play professional basketball outside the Republic.
"I'm blessed to enter a new phase of my life both on and off the court," said Wong, who will marry Sopfina Toh, who works in the banking industry, on Saturday (Oct 20).
"Both are big transitions at age 30. I want to live my life to the fullest, and open doors for other Singaporean players to play abroad."
"I'm not an extremely good player, but it has always been my dream to play overseas and I'm thankful that there is this opportunity for me to do so.
"When I am based overseas, I can focus on just playing basketball, whereas players in Singapore have to contend with work or studies.
"Whether I'm eventually successful or not, I will still get a taste of what it is like to be an import and be able to share this experience with younger players in my academy or in schools."
Wong posted ABL averages of 8.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists for the Slingers since their 2009 debut and picked up the local MVP gongs in 2014 and 2015-16.
The point guard left last year to focus on the Scholar Basketball Academy that he set up three years ago.
But the itch to return to the court did not take long to surface and he joined local club Adroit to participate in the semi-professional Thailand Basketball Super League in January.
He also represented Adroit at the Malaysia Hoops Challenge last month, and it was at this tournament that Knights' managing partner Christopher Tanuwidjaja made the move for the player.
Tanuwidjaja told Asean Sports: "Wei Long is the ideal point guard to lead this team, especially as we are going with many young talents. It is truly a blessing for us to be able to work with such amazing talent."
Wong said: "From the CLS owners' point of view, they require my experience after (star Indonesian point guard) Mario Wuysang left the team. What they need from me are leadership and organisation, not so much in terms of scoring.
"My physical condition has been good. I have also been working out with my students in my academy. Playing in the Thai league from January to April, I feel match-fit, too.
"Our target is to better last season's seventh-placed finish (out of nine teams) and make it to the play-offs."
Wong, who declined to reveal his salary, is registered as a local for the Knights under new league regulations because his mother was born in Indonesia. Each team are allowed a maximum of three foreigners, with no limit on locals, whether they are of mixed heritage or not.
Another Singaporean, Jonathan Wong, has also joined a foreign ABL club, 2015-16 champions KL Dragons, under a similar rule. The 21-year-old guard, whose mother is Malaysian, also impressed in the Hoops Challenge for Adroit with an average of 19.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
The new regulation is expected to benefit teams such as Alab Pilipinas and Saigon Heat, who are likely to sign better players with local and American heritage, for example.
Wong felt that there are pros and cons to the initiative, saying: "The purely local players will have to fight harder for playing time but, if they train with better players with mixed heritage, they will improve. Better players will also likely raise the standard of the ABL."
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang added: "Foreign teams have never looked at our players until recent years and it is good that some are attracting interest and have been recruited overseas.
"It will be good for them to go out and experience different systems and environments, improve and share what they have learnt with their international teammates."
The ninth edition of the ABL will feature 10 teams for the first time, with debutants Zhuhai Wolf Warriors tipping off the season against 2016-17 champions Hong Kong Eastern on Nov 16.
The Slingers open with a home game against Formosa Dreamers at the OCBC Arena on Nov 18, while CLS Knights play their first game on the same day at Saigon Heat.
Slingers-Dreamers tickets available at www.apactix.com from Oct 20