Tan Kang Yi is currently a student-athlete at Nanyang Technological University, studying sports science while concurrently taking on power forward and center duties for her school during the competitive seasons. She also represents Jumpshot Women’s Basketball Team, which plies its trade in the premier local league, the National Women’s Basketball League.
On the surface, Kang Yi’s basketball journey seems almost stereotypically perfect. Her trajectory in the game had all the trappings of a conventional success story for a talented youth: a father who was a state-level player in Malaysia during his playing days, inspiring her to pursue the game and to master her fundamentals right from the earliest stages; a love for the game that started at the tender age of ten, and getting talent-spotted by former top players for her crystal-clear potential; and a rise to the summit as one of the most promising players in recent memory, on both the school and international circuits.
If we take the time to dive a little deeper under the surface however, there is a richer, more complex story to be uncovered. This story reveals a young lady’s trials and tribulations, and her love affair with the game, which goes way beyond a laundry list of achievements to be checked off as she finds her way to the top of the game.
Although Kang Yi started pursuing basketball at a young age and drew immediate attention for her advanced skill set from the jump, she was unsure of her capabilities and felt lost in the early days. The reality of the journey for Kang Yi hardly resembled the glory and glamour typically associated with prodigies.
Winning did not come easy back then, as she struggled to lift her team to exceed their collective talents. This was compounded by sharp joint pains as she underwent some difficult growth spurts, in reaching her eventual 177-cm frame. Even as she progressed into her C Division days at Jurong Secondary School, her journey started with heartbreak as her team could only finished as 2nd runner-up in the National School Games, despite dominating the West Zone. Off the court, she faced insecurities and identity issues, as she felt unable to fit in socially and to lead her teammates as team captain. Despite her father’s encouragements, she also found society at large to be less kind and welcoming of a girl’s perceived role in a male-dominated game with a traditionally rugged image. All these struggles led to self-doubts and a love-hate relationship with the game, pushing her to take some time away from the game, as she simply did not believe in her ability to go any further.
However, the time apart only served to rekindle her love for the game. It dawned upon her that the court was her safe haven, an outlet where she could learn and grow, and build strong bonds with her teammates. The introspective teenager capitalised on her renewed passion, training and working harder than before. She added a sweet perimeter stroke to her already-advanced footwork in the post and her deft finishing touch, making her a nightmare on the blocks for any opposing bigs.
All her sacrifices paid off in her sophomore season, as Jurong Secondary School took home the grand prize as the C Division National Champion in the National School Games, with Kang Yi at the helm as team captain. In her final year of secondary school, she played an instrumental role in securing another National Champion title in the B Division, earning the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award for her contributions. Thereafter, she was called up to the National Under-18 squad and represented her country with pride at the 2018 FIBA U18 Women’s Asian Championship in Bangalore, India. She also played for Raffles Institution (RI) in her tertiary debut, where her team finished as 1st runner-up in the A Division, despite suffering from a serious knee ulcer the year before that affected her mobility on the court.
The next year, she bounced back stronger from her injury and topped this feat while also taking on the role of team captain. A determined Kang Yi led RI to the A Division National Champion crown with a dominating performance against Hwa Chong Institution while clinching the MVP Award by a mile in filling her trophy cabinet.
Unfortunately, just as she was transitioning to her collegiate career, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her plans and her steady ascent in the game. Undeterred, Kang Yi trained tirelessly on her own and with Team Jumpshot as she strove to stay game-ready for the next opportunity that might arrive. No longer that hesitant and bashful child, the 20-year-old dove headfirst into the 3×3 game when she realised that the condensed format could provide more playing opportunities in the era of social distancing and group size limitations. By doing so, she had the chance to compete at the FIBA 3×3 Basketball Thai Super League in Ayutthaya, Thailand, going up and holding her own against regional powerhouses. She was also a national representative at the 2022 ASEAN University Games in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, as she honed her skills with the aim of representing the Singapore Women’s National Team in the 2023 SEA Games.
Through these experiences, Kang Yi has emerged as a tougher competitor and person. As one of the top prospects in the local hoop scene, she is not willing to settle for following the usual ‘star trajectory’ in her playing days ahead. Instead, she has set herself the lofty goal of becoming the first female professional basketball player in Singapore, despite the lack of a professional local league or even team. Under these circumstances, Kang Yi dares to dream, and is willing to leave her nest to pursue further opportunities. By engaging a personal trainer and a professional nutritionist, and by working on her perimeter game on both offense and defence in adapting to the fast-paced modern game and to size disadvantages on the international stage, she has shown that she is ready to do whatever it takes to reach the next level.
Wherever this next level may be, Kang Yi is up for the challenge. The power of the game and her passion for it have combined to let her discover her self-identity and to push through preconceived boundaries and limitations. No matter where the journey may take her, she is ready to script and savour her future chapters, every step of the way. What are you working on? Kang Yi is working on her mental game, to push past her mental and physical boundaries, and she is getting better, every single day.
Credit: Wong Chin Yi