Slam Dunk: Basketball Finals 2019

By Val Yeo (20S03O) and Rachael Koh (20S07C)
Photographs courtesy of Chun Jun Ran (20S06H) from Raffles Photographic Society

Taking our seats on the spectator stand, we see them coming onto the court, bathed in a glow. To people who can barely play basketball, the basketball team seems awe-inspiring. Yet, the road to the finals was not easy. Behind this glamorous appearance is hours of practice and countless injuries—even now, more than half the team are wearing knee guards and ankle guards. Despite losing 3 out of 4 of the quarterfinal matches, the team managed to narrowly squeeze into the top four, beating Nanyang Junior College to get into the finals. Pitted against Hwa Chong once again, they are determined to win the championship back after having lost it to Dunman High School last year.

The match begins with supporters cheering enthusiastically in a show of school spirit. Raffles passes the ball, and the team is off. They immediately settle into their positions, running into open space to support each other with the ease of a well oiled machine. Both teams are trying to score, as this first quarter may set the pace for the rest of the match. Raffles attempts their first layup, only to fail and have the rebound go to Hwa Chong—but they don’t let it faze them for long. The players, determined to score the first goal of the game, run faster and harder to regain possession of the ball. And they do, only a minute and a half into the game. Raffles’ first goal only motivates them to push themselves harder, and they intercept the ball from Hwa Chong several times to attempt to score. The hall is filled with cheers from both sides—on ours, encouragement can be heard as councillors lead the classes in ‘let’s go Raffles, let’s go’, and on theirs, shouts of ‘defend, defend’ ring out. As Raffles scores their third goal, Hwa Chong’s coach calls for a timeout for a quick change in strategy to counter Raffles’ attack.

When the game starts again, both teams go all out. Resolve can be seen in the players’ eyes, determined to widen the score gap. Hwa Chong seems to be rejuvenated, scoring their first goal. But Team Raffles is not to be outdone. They manage to steal the ball, scoring the very first 3-pointer of the game. The game continues, both teams spurred on by the cheers of supporters, and the hopes of their fellow teammates riding on them. Nine seconds before the buzzer sounds, team captain Tan Kang Yi (19S03F) manages to score, putting the scoreboard at 15-9 with Raffles in the lead.

The team is almost haggard in appearance as they walk off the court. Sweat drips from their faces, red with exhaustion. Even from a distance, we can see the heaving of their chests. It is in this moment that we really realise that Basketball isn’t as simple as it is seen to be —the support teammates have to give each other, the split second decisions they have to make, the fast pace of the game are all aspects that players have to be accustomed to. Yet, the players make it seem so effortless, almost as if it is second nature to them.

Hwa Chong begins in the second quarter, set on closing the score gap, but the team’s accurate reading of the game enables a turnover of the ball, and Freda Wee (20S06Q) manages to score. With frustration evident in the faces of some Hwa Chong players, they begin to attack more aggressively to try and take the lead in the game; yet, Raffles is unwilling to give the lead away without a fight. Even after missing a goal, Freda clings onto the rebound with a Hwa Chong player for the chance of possession for our team. With high morale among the spectators, we shout out cheers for her display of passion as the score gap continues to widen, ending the quarter with a final score of 25-14.

Han Xi (#3) dribbles as she prepares to pass the ball.

Once the ball is thrown, signalling the start of the third quarter, the atmosphere of the court immediately changes, now charged with the players’ intense focus. Raffles’ players’ bodies twist to keep the ball as far away as possible from outstretched hands before going for a fake. Within the first 22 seconds, Raffles gets past the defence of Hwa Chong and scores the first goal of the quarter, putting them at an even bigger lead of 13 points with a score of 27-14.

Not even two minutes into the game, a break is called. Players from both schools trickle off the court and gather in a circle with their respective coaches, who give them tips and suggestions for improving their gameplay. When the players head back on court after talking to their coaches, their faces show their determination to do better than before.

The game continues with Hwa Chong starting the ball. Players constantly maneuver the ball  skillfully and smartly to escape their opponent’s block, never failing to elicit amazed wows from the spectators. However, just as the game grows increasingly intense, two players on the court fall after going after the ball, the loud thud silencing the audience. Barely one minute later, Hwa Chong fouls and Raffles is given a free throw. Kang Yi stands at the free throw line, bouncing the ball a few times before aiming at the hoop. While the first ball doesn’t make it in, the second falls in with a satisfying thwap and the players rush beneath the hoop in a bid to catch the ball and gain possession.

But things take a turn for the worse. In a matter of three minutes, Raffles fouls an additional four times, causing them to have a total of five fouls in the game and giving Hwa Chong a free throw. Both balls make it into the hoop, closing the gap between the scores slightly at 32-18. Raffles can only try harder not to foul by preventing collisions with the Hwa Chong players, not wanting to give Hwa Chong any more free throws. The game progresses cleanly from here, both teams scoring a few points each. When the timer reaches zero, the third quarter ends with the score at 34-21 to Raffles.

Team Raffles making a shot.

As the game enters its fourth and final quarter, expectations run high for the Raffles players to win while Hwa Chong grows tense at the 13-point gap. Raffles starts the ball this time and the two teams attempt to outplay each other on the court, scoring a few more points with well-strategised and well-coordinated shots. With 3 minutes 22 seconds left on the clock, a break is called. As the team discusses their strategy, the Raffles spectators erupt into Raffles Dynamite to show their support for the team.

The game continues after the break and players, no matter how drained, still strive to do their best on the court. Zhu Yezi (19S03R) and player #11 from Hwa Chong grab the rebound simultaneously, unwilling to give up possession of the ball. They fall to the floor together, a mess of tangled limbs and sweat, yet arms still trapping the ball in a vice-like grip. The audience lets out a loud woah at the show of ferocity from both players as the referee approaches them before announcing it to be Raffles’ ball for the game to continue.

Nearing the end of the game, we are all on the edge of our seats, unconsciously finding ourselves chanting along with the countdown,

“Three!

Two!

One!”

As the timer blinks to show 0:00, the spectators burst into cheers and teammates rush onto the court to embrace one another. With a scoreline of 52-33, Raffles has won. The team laughs and cheers in elation, gathering in a circle to celebrate while the coach smiles from the sidelines. The grins on the players’ face stretch widely and as to whether there are some tears of joy mixed with the sweat on their faces, we can only guess.

In a show of sportsmanship, all players from both teams line up and shake hands with their opponents, smiles on their faces. We then get up and do the Unite cheer, as the team heads towards the stand, hand-in-hand, to take a bow. This moment, despite all its chaos, is one where everyone is united in their elation.

The team with their well-deserved champion trophy.

Having defied all odds after coming in last among the top four teams in the quarterfinals, Raffles’ win did not come easy. As team captain Kang Yi put it, “Losing to these teams made it harder for us to believe that we could win the next time.” They were not only challenged physically, some suffering from ankle injuries and even a broken nose, but also had to face doubt and take on falling morale. The players pushed themselves to the limit on the court, evident from their drenched backs, taut muscles and determined eyes. From coming in last in the quarterfinals to first in the finals, they had gone against everyone’s expectations to become the overall champions.

And after today’s match, we wholeheartedly agree—they are more than individuals, more than a team. They are a family.

Players:

#3 Aw Han Xi (19S03L)

#4 Bridget Lum Hui Xin (19S03C)

#7 Zhu Ye Zi (19S03R)

#9 Aisling Lum (19S03N)

#10 Ong Xuan Yi Mabel (20S03G)

#11 Aw Zi Yann (20S07A)

#12 Tan Kang Yi (19S03F)

#13 Wee Yi-Ning Freda (20S06Q)

#15 Katrina Lee Liying (19S06J)

#16 Wang Tingyu Kelly (20S06N)

#17 Angela Wang (19S03Q)

#19 Teo Shu’En (20A01A)

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