The following year Clifford and his batch mates were selected to be in the their first ever secondary school basketball tournament.
The training for the tournament started the year before. It was tough and aggressive almost all the time. Mr Loh, didnt give any of the boys any slack. He pushed them physically day in day out. They had 2.4km runs during recess time (30min break), and 3 three-hour trainings a week. Some of the guys almost wanted to quit due to the heavy physical wear on top of attending to school academic work. But Mr Loh wasn’t going to let any of his player lose track of their study, so he made a point to stop basketball training 2 weeks before any major exam, and sat every player in the club down to study under his supervision. The level of silence and concentration there was higher than in the examination, because for every unecessary noise made, the boys will be made to run around the field. Clifford and his teammates, felt much better on the court with Mr Loh than in the classroom.
All those effort and time put together, amounted to a brilliant run of games in the first round of the tournament for Clementi Town Secondary School (CTSS). They won all the team they played in the first round by more than 10 points a game. They played with aggression on defense every single second. CTSS fitness for the game came from the tough training that they endured over the past year. They out run and out hustle opponents drastically during the last 2 quarter of the game all the time in the first round. Hustle Play are the pride and honour of that CTSS squad.
Clifford and Ali was the captain and co-captain of the team. They represented the heart of that pride and honour. They will be seen on the floor hustling for the ball every game, at least 3 times. Their energy and heart was infectious, the team caught onto it quickly.
In the second round of the tournament (Top 12 team of the district), CTSS loss 3 out of 5 games. Due to lack of experience in handling the crucial moments of the games. The teams in the second rounds, were much tougher mentally and physically. CTSS could not bully them into the corner using fitness or aggression. The referees were becoming stricter with CTSS aggressive defense play, and lots of their player fouled out of the game at crucial moment. It was a big lesson for the boys and their coach.
Clifford in particular endured one of his most impactful moment in his basketball journey in that second round. In a game against one of the national top 4 team – Jurong, they led Jurong by 11 points at the half. But the lack of composure showed in the 2nd half, when Jurong pull the score to within 2. At the very moment, Clifford tried to stop a shot by stepping in for the charge. The referee blow for a defensive foul. Clifford was on 4 fouls at that point. This was his fifth. He fouled out. It was the last 1 minute 30 seconds of the game. CTSS lost 40-42 at the end of the game. Clifford felt terrible for letting his team down (this would be an episode that haunts him for the next 10 years of his life).
But amongst this sad and frustrated moment, a unique gem was born. The CTSS team sat together in front of Mr Loh. Everyone was crying. They lost the match, but they felt something greater than the trophy. They felt the feeling that would be define as a “championship”team. They were together, They were a team.
Years later, when he look back, Clifford will realise, that at the moment of great disappointment was also the moment of his first taste of being together with a group of champion. It was fortunately or unfortunately, the only time he felt that about a team in his basketball journey.
And that capped off his junior years of basketball in secondary school. The next 2 season, would be humbling and haunting for our young basketballer.
(Next episode of THE BASKETBALL JOURNEY will be up in March 2017, our author will be taking a break)