At WYK, basketball was not a widely participated sport. Nevertheless, there were 2 courts, flanked by the 2 tennis courts further down and a few steps up from the Sandy Football Field. Students who wished to play could do so during PT Class, Football Class, before or after class, and weekends. In some years, we had a School Basketball Team.
It was February, 1969. I was in Form 7, my final year and the last few months of secondary school. Prior to that year, there were a lot of changes with school mates and friends. From F5 to F6, five classes were reduced to three and from F6 to F7, the number of students was further reduced, to about half again. Some students went to other schools, a few started to work, and many left for universities abroad. A lot of friends were not around.
I was accepted by several colleges and universities in the US and Canada, but was also pondering to start a business in Hong Kong. My father was a good businessman and was supportive. With the decision looming and the uncertainties of youths about the future, there were considerable anxieties.
Then came the interclass basketball games at WYK.
The senior boys competition were the classes F4 to F7, about 20 classes in total. It would be a single elimination round. To advance, you needed to win each game.
Each class in F4 to F5 had about 35 students. Our class of F7 Biology had only 24 students, with most of us aiming to get degrees in medicine, dentistry or science. Many considered the class a group of bookworms.
Our regular basketball player was Yiu Yan Ming, who played mostly football as a goalkeeper as you could hardly get football going, let alone basketball, in PT class. So some effort was required to put together a basketball team. 6 people showed interest, Yiu, Yu Wai Ki, Cheung Hok Kai, the brothers John and Ben Fenn, and me. We might have taken some shots at the basket during PT class in the week before the first round – that was all the preparation made.
Yiu was 5′ 10” tall and a natural center, Yu was small, played some basketball and had an occasional long shot with two hands, 16-footer being a long one in those days with our capabilities. Cheung and I were reasonably co-ordinated in hands and feet, and the Fenn brothers were expected to guard their opponents. Zone defense was de rigueur in those days.
We gathered after school for the first game. It was the first time we played together. Each half was about 12 minutes, and the winning team might score 16 to 26 points. Needless to say, there was no coach and few timeouts were called. Yiu was the only one who knew how to use it, and the referee would sometimes call a timeout to help a team to re-organize. Yiu did most of the scoring, from close range, with the rest of us sniping for a point or two, not without luck. It was a close game and we won, advancing to the next round.
In the second round, we were gaining some experience. Yu and I shared the task of bringing the ball up court, trying to pass to Yiu for layups or short attempts. We would shoot from the outside if left opened, with moderate success. On defense, everyone held their positions around the key. Yiu would get the short rebounds. The longer rebounds would be contested by the rest of us against the opposing players. Yiu scored about 15 points and we got through to the third round.
The opponents were stronger in the semi-final round. But we were gelling together, playing more and more like a team. As the game progressed, I started to bring the ball up court in all occasions, leaving Yu, when he was playing, possible to get open for his long shot. We were behind in part of the game, but won in a tight contest – to the final.
The final took place after school in late February or early March, 1969, against Form 5B. The Form master was Fr. P.J. Finneran whom I knew very well with tennis and other sports (for more on him, please see Annals of Excellence – WYK Tennis, and A Big Tennis Match). We had noticed Team 5B during our previous round, as they were playing simultaneously on the adjacent court. They were impressive with two tall centers/forwards, Cho and Ng if memory serves correctly, whom we called the Twin Towers (TT).
The TT controlled the inside, especially their own end. Yiu could handle either one of them one-on-one, but it would be difficult to get rebounds or score against the two of them down low, which is where the game would be decided. We discussed this, and there was no solution – we just had to play better, first individually, and more importantly, as a team. We might make more passes on the outside and looked for chances from the perimeter while always keeping an eye on Yiu, who had to maintain his high score if we wanted to win.
During warm up, Fr. Finneran saw me and came over.
F: William, you play basketball?
T: Hmm… yes, sometimes.
F: We have good players…..hmm
Perhaps from knowing me, and my desire to do well, he did not comment any more, and wished me luck.
The referee blew the whistle and we were all playing hard. Yiu was fighting the TT underneath both baskets. I brought the ball up and played forward as well, joining the fray, crashing in to get rebounds, or at least to take out one of the TT so Yiu had a chance.
It was intense. The TT were bigger in size and better in skills. I would lean and jump to make body contact, to upset their balance and control. Although basketball is a non-contact sport, there are some bodily encounters which are allowed, and I made work on it with experience from football, pushing the limits without getting penalized.
Yiu was fearless, fighting for every position, pass, shot and rebound. Together, we just elevated our level of play. About five minutes into the game, we felt we could at least contain the TT – their dominance was not established.
With the scrambling inside, Yu would run and tried to get open. Then, if he got the ball, he would try his long shot. He got one just then, and threw off our opponents completely. Now they have to worry about the outside, which heretofore was not in their game. One or both of the TT had to come out to defend against Yu, Cheung, Feng or me, leaving Yiu with one-on-one opportunities.
The game rolled on with this rhythm, fiercely contested. We got to the half leading by 3 points. It was only at that juncture that I noticed there were a lot of spectators, large for a basketball game at WYK.
We drank some water at the intermission, and talked a little. We were in good spirit, no doubt making the bookish Yu and Feng brothers getting as competitive and determined as the rest of us. For my part, having played for WYK in other sports, I knew that our opponents had never experienced being behind before, and we had the edge. Yiu also came to the same idea and encouraged us.
The second half began with the same intensity, but no change in tactics from our opponents. They were playing very hard, but could not control the inside as Cheung or I would crash in for offensive rebounds, assisting Yiu. In the perimeter, we would pass the ball around, looking for an open shot. Bringing the ball up, I do not recall giving a turnover. On the contrary, Yu and I stole the ball for turnovers. At those instants, Yiu would burst up court, and we would try to make a long pass to him for a fast break and layup. Yiu got at least 2 baskets in this manner.
Then it happened. On a defensive rebound, I gained position, took the ball. While all my teammates were running up court, one of the TT was trying desperately to dispossess me, or at least prevent me from turning to pass or bring the ball up. I was crunching with my back to him to protect the ball, and turned to my right. He wanted to block me and at that moment, step on my left foot with all his weight. I felt the ligament tearing, but somehow, probably with determination, made the turn and passed the ball.
From years of playing football and other sports, I knew my left ankle was seriously injured. There was a searing white pain. But with high adrenaline running, I went up court, and showed nothing. We had one substitute but nothing could stop me from playing. Later, the ankle would be swollen from the soft tissues torn. The “Teak Da” doctors would treat it for a few months. Scar tissues formed inside. To this day, I have a much larger and slightly dislocated left ankle, and cause pain periodically, especially when I play sports. Nonetheless, it is not a problem as I refuse to consider it as one.
The tempo continued and we went to the last 2 minutes, announced by the referee. We were ahead 4 points when I brought the ball up. I was passing from the perimeter the entire game, so our opponents were anticipating it. I saw that Yiu was guarded by the TT together in the post position, and each of my three other teammates was marked tightly by an opponent. Looking for someone to pass to, at about 18′ out on centre right, I stopped momentarily while bouncing the ball. Everyone was tightly defended. Then I realized that I was open – I had a path of about 7 feet in front of me.
Without hesitation, I took two quick steps and jumped with the ball as high as I could to avoid blocking from the TT. The jump shot, from about 12 feet, was all net. We were 6 points ahead.
Unlike other basketball games, we seldom called timeouts and this was no exception. The remaining 90 or so seconds went with a blur. There was a little panic on their part but we held easily. The game was over. Fr, Finneran came over to congratulate us – I thought I saw admiration in his eyes.
There was happiness with our group. As in previous games, Yiu scored double digits. We changed and walked together down the sloped driveway. At the gate, we parted with a content goodbye.
I was the only student going home east on Waterloo Road. Crossing Ho Man Tin Street in the setting sun, the anxieties in the last weeks were gone – for we had soared.
This writing is dedicated to Yiu Yan Ming, who died a few months after the game in an accident. In the short time he was with us, particularly in that late afternoon, he had shown leadership and inspired greatness.