HK and Taiwan clubs for ABL debut
For the first time, clubs from Hong Kong and Taiwan will play in the Asean Basketball League
REPORTING FROM MANILA
Stronger and better.
The contest will be between six teams, but the men's Asean Basketball League (ABL) is confident the new season will be stronger, as it prepares for tip-off on Nov 25, when the Singapore Slingers host defending champions Westports Malaysia Dragons at the OCBC Arena in a repeat of last season's enthralling play-off Finals.
At yesterday's season launch held at the Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila, ABL chief operating officer Jericho Ilagan said: "We are going into our seventh season and I have never seen the level of competition this high and even.
"We want to make it bigger than six teams, but we also want to make sure the growth is stable and sustained.
"Thailand's Hi-Tech Bangkok City and Mono Vampire may have dropped out this season, but they are welcome to join us next season, along with Indonesia, whom we are already in discussions with.
"That is the goal for us, that the current teams remain and new ones are introduced."
The Slingers and the Dragons are two founding members of the ABL who have featured in every season so far.
Vietnam's Saigon Heat have also been ever-present since joining in 2012.
The new teams are Alab Pilipinas, who are aiming to bring the ABL back to the Philippines for the first time since 2013, Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions, a club with an 84-year history, and Taiwan's Kaohsiung Truth, who have gone through an 18-month preparation for their debut.
Ilagan believes the ABL has proven its worth over the years.
"In its first six seasons, the league crowned five champions from four different countries," he said.
"We have witnessed the birth of rivalries, epic games, outstanding individual performances and, most importantly, camaraderie among all athletes, coaches and league officials.
"In the six years, the ABL has helped its member teams grow their markets and advance the sport in their respective countries."
From being unranked by Fiba in 2009, the Singapore men's team are now 82nd in the world.
They were able to compete in the 2015 Fiba Asia Championships in China and recently hosted the Merlion Cup after a 20-year hiatus.
Malaysia have also moved steadily up the rankings.
They are now world No. 67 and the reigning ABL champions the Dragons recently competed in the 2016 Fiba Asia Champions Cup as representatives of the South-east Asian Basketball Association.
Vietnamese basketball also took a step forward by again seeing action at last year's SEA Games.
In the ABL, Saigon Heat's home games were often sold out, with their fans arguably the loudest in the competition.
The Heat management also helped form the Vietnamese Basketball Association (VBA), which facilitates the growth of basketball outside Ho Chi Minh City.
Coach Anthony Garbelotto said: "Our biggest challenge was to find local players but, with the VBA, we found some exciting talent.
"Thanks to the ABL, we are in the process of improving and emulating the likes of Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia as we learn from the processes they go through to get better on and off the court."
Fans are starting to pay attention to the ABL - the "live" YouTube streaming of the Finals series recorded an average of 10,000 views per Finals game, compared to 7,000 in 2014 and 3,500 the season before.
Last season saw the most number of likes on the Facebook page, the most activity on its Twitter handle and the most views on the ABL website - 50,000 hits on a single day at the start of the season versus an average of 45,000 previously.
Major broadcasters have taken notice.
Alab Pilipinas have tied up with media giants ABS-CBN, while ABL games will also be aired "live" on StarHub in Singapore, RTM in Malaysia, SportCast in Taiwan and iCable in Hong Kong, in addition to YouTube streaming.
- Tickets for the Slingers' home matches are now on sale at www.apactix.com, hotline +65 31588588, Singapore Indoor Stadium box office, Scotts Square and all SingPost outlets. Fans can visit www.singaporeslingers.com to find out more information about season packages.
SLINGERS' HOME GAMES
Nov 25: v Malaysia Dragons
Dec 18: v Alab Pilipinas
Jan 8: v Malaysia Dragons
Jan 15: v Hong Kong Eastern
Feb 5: v Hong Kong Eastern
Feb 12: v Alab Pilipinas
Feb 26: v Kaohsiung Truth
March 5: v Saigon Heat
March 12: v Kaohsiung Truth
March 19: v Saigon Heat