24 - 29
September 2019
Malaysia Dragons spread wings after complete turnaround from season-opening loss
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Malaysia Dragons spread wings after complete turnaround from season-opening loss

KUALA LUMPUR (Malaysia) - After a rough start in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) season, the Westports Malaysia Dragons seem to be back on track.

Without leading scorer Winston Shepard in their recent game on January 9 against San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, the Dragons had to find other ways to get points on the board. With only 30 seconds left in the game, they found themselves down 71-70 against undefeated Alab Pilipinas.

Chris Eversley had 12 points, but he was 5-23 from the floor so far in the game. Big man Nnanna Egwu was displaying his shooting form with 3 triples and 15 points, but they probably did not want him to bring up the ball on his own.

The Dragons gave the ball to young guard Wong Zhong Han and let him bring it up the court. Wong had already registered 19 points in the game, but none of that would matter if he couldn’t find a way to add 2 (or even one) more to that total. He danced his way up the court before settling on the right wing. With one quick burst to the hoop, Wong found his way to the rim and placed the ball in with his right hand for the go-ahead bucket.

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The score remained at 72-71 up until the final buzzer and the Westports Malaysia Dragons were named winners, handing the ABL defending champions their first loss of the season. The team’s youngest player and ABL rookie Wong was no doubt the player of the game with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.

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“I was happy and that definitely was the best game ever in my career,” said Wong after the game. 21-year-old Wong is playing in his first ABL season and has been pretty impressive for a rookie with averages of 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his first 7 games. “Being youngest guy in the team and being able to lead the team to a win was really the best thing that can happen to me.”

The Dragons were understandably in euphoria after beating the defending champions in dramatic fashion, an atmosphere which was a far cry from how their season had started.

The 2018-2019 season was expected to be tough for the Dragons. They barely had any players returning from the previous season and were suffering some preseason injuries. Even then, a 101-47 blowout to rivals Singapore Slingers was still considered a devastating loss to start the year. The 54-point deficit was the worst ever in league history.


Now, they have turned things around to hold a 4-3 record with quality wins over the top 2 teams in the standings.

“While the first loss of the season was very disappointing, there were many different factors that led to the result and I had confidence that it wasn't a true reflection of what this team was about,” explained Jamie Pearlman, who was assigned as the new head coach of the team over the summer.

“The team is continuing to build on the foundation of defense whilst still developing the chemistry required to score the ball efficiently. All seasons tend to be a bit of a roller coaster so it is important you don't get too despondent about the losses or over confident from a win such as against Alab [Pilipinas].”

“The focus has been on the importance of the defensive end of the floor. Our goal is to try and hold teams to 80 points a game. If we can do that we will give ourselves a chance of winning.” Since their season-opening loss, the Dragons have allowed an average of 77.2 points and have won 4 of their last 6 games.

“My teammates tell me just play through it and work hard,” Wong says. “[Whether] we are losing by 20 or whatever, we just play through it, have fun, enjoy, and learn.”


With the Dragons, Wong is learning from one the best. 9-season veteran and former Malaysia national team player, Loh Shee Fai, has seen it all in the ABL and he knows that it is a process. The 30-year-old sharpshooter has been with the team each and every year, from winning the title to missing out the playoffs entirely. Shee Fai knows what it takes.


“As you know, this is the brand new Dragons,” The franchise leading scorer explains. “New players, new coaching staff and new management. It is not easy having a new-look team to compete in the league but we are slowly growing and improving each and every game. We will try our best to achieve our goal to make the playoffs this season.”

Shee Fai himself is improving along with the team’s new look this season. He’s averaging the most minutes of his career (26.7 MPG) and repaying his coach's trust with his highest scoring and rebounding output of 9.0 PPG and 3.1 RPG.

“It really feels good to be healthy,” Shee Fai adds with a laugh. “I just go all out on the court and appreciate the opportunity. I enjoy every minute and moment on and off the court with the team.”

The ABL season is still relatively young and the Dragons have 19 games to go in the regular season. They have proven themselves as a team that cannot be overlooked any longer. Is it possible for them to replicate the 2015-2016 season success where they went all the way to win the title?


 “That title really meant a lot to me,” says Shee Fai, a key part of the championship squad. “I'm really proud to represent Malaysia and my goal is to get [another] ABL championship for Malaysia. It would be just like a dream come true. For me, we are just getting better every day and our aim for this season is enter playoff first.”

“It would be great to win a title in my first ABL season,” says Wong. “I’m definitely willing to continue to work hard to reach that goal. It’s not going to be easy so I’m going to work my [butt] off for it.”

All of that work has paid off so far with 3 wins in their last 4 games. If they can keep it up, the Dragons might be able to get their way back to playing in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup after their recent appearance back in 2016. Shee Fai was injured and didn't play that year, but he was a part of the team that played in the 2011 FIBA Asia Champions Cup.

“It always feels good and it is a rare opportunity when you can compete with the top teams in Asia [at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup],” Shee Fai says of playing in the regional tournament. “Also a good chance to play with those top players in Asia, too.”