SURABAYA - Self-proclaimed "pain freak" Jerran Young could be the man to help Singapore Slingers end eight seasons of hurt with their first Asean Basketball League (ABL) title on Saturday (May 11).
The American all-rounder had been a major doubt after pulling his hamstring in the ABL Finals Game 1 defeat to CLS Knights Indonesia on May 3, but returned to the court just two days later. He then managed 19 minutes and scored 14 points to help the Slingers win Game 2 in Singapore.
Young, 27, again made a difference in Game 3, scoring a team-high 16 points - including two free throws at the end of the 63-60 win - that leaves the Slingers on the brink of clinching the championship. Game 4 is again in Surabaya.
Young's willingness to throw his body on the line is typical of the Slingers, a team that has had to overcome various obstacles such as limited funding and lack of full-time local players to reach their third ABL Finals in four seasons.
He told The Straits Times: "I have had injuries during my high school and college days that made me miss and lose crucial matches and finals. When I hurt my hamstring, I was like, 'Not again?'
"But I have been strong-minded since I was young. I dislocated and fractured my hip once and I was out after a week trying to play football. You can call me a pain freak, but with lots of prayers, I just want to push my limits and do my best for the team.
"It's not just about me though. This game comes with sacrifices to get to where you want to be. And the Slingers have been building each other up, so that even if one goes down with injury or foul trouble, another can slot in just like how Larry (Liew) came in for me and did such a great job in defence for us."
After struggling to sign for a professional team, the Dallas-native had been keeping in shape playing money tournaments, where teams sign up in a winners-take-all knockout series.
It was during one of these events last year in Dallas where Young was in a same team with Slingers swingman Xavier Alexander, and they ended up winning the competition.
Young said: "I had played against Xavier before but was never on the same team. After winning the event, he asked if I was playing for any team and I said no. He recommended me to the Slingers and here we are trying to win another one again.
"It was tough before that because I had some injuries, was out of school for three to four years and teams like their players young. But I kept my faith strong and believed that if I continued playing hard, the right person would find me."
He has turned out to be a gem of a find with his athleticism a real asset at both ends of the court. Through 34 games this season, he is averaging 19.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 steals and one block.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "I thought he was done after Game 1, but the Singapore Sport Institute has really helped in his recovery, and it shows how tough our players are and how badly they want to contribute, especially at this stage.
"In the last two seasons, we have missed some edge in the offensive end, which Jerran has done well to come in and help us with on both sides of the court."
A vociferous 3,000-strong crowd at GOR CLS Kertajaya await.
Knights guard and former Slinger Wong Wei Long said: "We have analysed the past few games and identified what we can improve on. We are going to execute what the coaches have planned, hustle and bring more energy to Game 4.
"We are ready for another tough battle and to give is all we got to extend the series to Game 5 (May 15 at the OCBC Arena)."
Meanwhile, Knights owner Christopher Tanuwidjaja told ST the team bus harassment which the Slingers encountered after Wednesday’s training session is unlikely to be perpetrated by Knights fans.
He said: “The liaison officer attached to the Slingers told me the men who harassed the bus said they were upset because their friend was nearly knocked by the bus in an earlier incident when the bus was on the way to the arena for the Slingers practice. None of the men are familiar faces at our home games.
“The Knights just want to play basketball. Game 3 showed what Knights fans are truly about - loud and passionate but trouble-free even after we lost. We look forward to an exciting Game 4, and hopefully Game 5.”
Neo urged his team to stay focused on what they have to do on the court, and added: "We will be working on tidying up defensive breakdowns and what to do after that. We must focus on ourselves and not our opponents."