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 today.
The American all-rounder had been a major doubt after pulling his hamstring in the ABL Finals' opening defeat by CLS Knights Indonesia at home on May 3. But he returned just two days later, managing 19 minutes and 14 points as the best-of-five series was levelled at 1-1.
Young again made a difference in Game 3 - a joint team-high 16 points, that included two free throws at the end of the 63-60 win in Surabaya, leaving the visiting Slingers on the brink of clinching the title in Game 4 today.
A Game 5, if needed, is at the OCBC Arena on May 15.
The 27-year-old's willingness to throw his body on the line is typical of the Slingers, a team who had to overcome various obstacles such as limited funding and lack of full-time local players to reach their third 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 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."
TEAM BEFORE SELF
You can call me a pain freak... but I just want to push my limits and do my best for the team.
JERRAN YOUNG, Slingers star, on playing through the pain barrier.
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 he was in the same team with Slingers swingman Xavier Alexander, and they ended up winning the competition.
Young said: "I played against Xavier before, but we were never on the same team. After 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. I had 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. 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. Jerran has done well and helped us on both sides of the court."
A vociferous 3,000-capacity 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 it all. We got to extend the series to Game 5."