Slingers leaner but no less hungry
Despite stars' departure, Singapore side hopeful of another good run
The Singapore Slingers are hoping that being leaner, younger and faster will help them win their first Asean Basketball League crown in the face of more competition this season.
Two big names - American centre Justin Howard, 36, and 29-year-old local star Wong Wei Long - have left, and last season's breakout star Leon Kwek has just started national service, but Slingers co-owner, general manager and assistant coach Michael Johnson is not worried.
|NANHAI KUNG FU||S'PORE SLINGERS|
Ahead of today's opener at Nanhai Kung Fu Basketball Club, the 54-year-old Australian told The New Paper: "We are slightly younger by choice. Hence we are also faster and can improve on our offence to add to our league-leading defence.
"We have had just one full week to train with our full complement of players - and we have registered 12 instead of the maximum 14 as Leon is in NS and (Wu) Qingde is injured - due to the just-completed National Basketball League, so we will get better as the season goes on.
"Xavier Alexander makes us click, and our local boys like Larry (Liew) and (Ng) Han Bin have been knocking in their shots in training. I'm seeing them do things with more confidence than before.
"Obviously, there are new teams... some of whom we don't know much about. This could be a good thing as we won't over-analyse and can just focus on our game.
"All things considered, I think we will make another good run. Hopefully, we have used up all our bad luck with injury and this will be third-time lucky after losing in the Finals in the past two seasons."
We are slightly younger by choice. Hence we are also faster and can improve on our offence to add on to our league-leading defence.Slingers assistant coach Michael Johnson
There will be nine teams, up from six, this term. The top two from the regular season will advance to the semi-finals, while the next four best-ranked teams will play in the quarter-finals.
These stages are held in a best-of-three format while the Finals, which Hong Kong Eastern won last season, is a best-of-five series.
To replace those who have left, the Slingers have drafted in 20-year-old point guard Lim Jun Yuan. They have also signed two 30-year-old foreigners - Canadian centre Ryan Wright, who impressed with 17.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as the Slingers finished fourth in the Merlion Cup in September, and Canadian-Filipino AJ Mandani, described as a pass master by Johnson.
"I'm looking to help the team in terms of rebounding, interior defence and inside scoring," said the 2.06m Wright.
"Having watched some games from last season, I think the Slingers are right up there, but we can still can do better defensively and take better care of the ball, which I hope to add value to these areas."
Mandani, who has played in the top Thai and Filipino leagues, added: "Most players on this team have been there for a number of years, but I can bring more leadership and energy to the team."
While some of the teams such as Alab Pilipinas have stacked their roster with Philippine internationals Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and Kiefer Ravena, and even NBA player Ivan Johnson, the Slingers are not bothered by the lack of a marquee name.
Slingers skipper Desmond Oh said: "Every team in the league will have good players, and our system of working as a team had brought us to the Finals.
"The aim is still to win the championship and we will still rely on our defence and running game. If we play hard and good defence, we can beat any team."