Basketball: Jackson Mah overcomes shaky debut to become rising star for Singapore Slingers

Jackson Mah overcame a rough debut to become a regular starter for the Singapore Slingers this season. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SLINGERS

SINGAPORE – In his much-anticipated Singapore Slingers debut, forward Jackson Mah found himself fumbling at the OCBC Arena.

The 1.91m Singaporean struggled to keep up with stronger, faster opponents from NS Matrix Malaysia.

He managed just five field goal attempts and scored only four points, alongside two rebounds and two assists in less than 16 minutes of playing time during that Jan 2 encounter.

He recalled: “That was the toughest moment I’ve experienced in basketball. I feel like I didn’t do my best, I had to improve on my shooting and defence. I was very down in the dumps for the next few days.”

But, since putting in extra training, all that has changed. The 19-year-old’s playing time and points have increased steadily. He has also become a starter in the Slingers’ last four games in the 2023 Asean Basketball League Invitational.

After that disappointing first game, he picked himself up and put in additional hours of shooting after training, while taking the initiative to defend against his foreign teammates in practice to improve his defensive abilities.

He said: “My teammates told me it’s okay, I did badly for one game and I can always do better next time, instead of being down and not doing anything.

“The seniors told me that not everyone is perfect, everyone makes mistakes but we can learn from them.”

The extra shooting practice also paid off as he sank six treys to contribute a career-high 22 points as the Slingers beat Louvre Surabaya 138-83 on Jan 18.

Coach Neo Beng Siang gave Mah the starting position after he showed good progress throughout the season.

He said: “The opportunity came up, he grabbed it and has performed well. He showed us that he’s earned it and is capable. Hopefully, he can maintain this and be more consistent.”

Mah’s progress in his debut season mirrors his rise as a basketballer, having picked up the sport only when he was 15.

From playing friendly games in neighbourhood courts, he then took up basketball as a co-curricular activity at Christ Church Secondary School and joined National Basketball League Division I side Eng Tat Hornets.

The following year, he was scouted by Neo at a local tournament and was offered a part-time contract as a training partner.

Neo Beng Siang praised Jackson Mah for working on his defence instead of remaining an offence-oriented player. ST PHOTO: RYAN CHIONG

His parents were initially worried his studies would be affected, but he showed that he was able to juggle both. In 2022, he was offered his first pro contract.

He said: “It’s a really great opportunity for me and I was very happy because I’ll get to play more. Ever since I started playing basketball, I’ve made a lot of new friends and learnt to be more disciplined.”

Mah, who hopes for more seasons with the Slingers, also credits them for shaping him into a more mature person.

The ITE College Central student said: “My mindset and behaviour have changed. I used to be a very childish person but the seniors have taught us that we must be disciplined.

“If we have the mindset that we’re out here to just play and have fun, it’s wrong. We’re here to play hard and not fool around.”

Jackson Mah credits the Slingers for shaping him into a more mature person. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SLINGERS

Neo commended Mah for his improvement, but added that the teenager still has to improve on his man-marking.

Mah is a doubt for the Slingers’ first leg semi-final against Saigon Heat on Monday, after injuring his shoulder at the Fiba Asia Cup 2025 Pre-Qualifiers in Mongolia.

The second leg of the best-of-three series is on Wednesday. All games will be played in Ho Chi Minh City.

Neo said: “It will be a big blow if he can’t play, but these things happen. The rest of the team just has to step up.”

The Slingers and Heat are tied 1-1 this season, with a difference of fewer than four points in each match.

Neo said the team have been working on their zone defence to stop the Heat’s offence.

With earlier meetings decided by fine margins, Neo reckons staying focused throughout will give the Slingers the edge.

He said: “We’ve shown we can match them, but towards the end, we didn’t handle ourselves properly. We just have to stick together and execute the plan, then we should be good.”

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