Alli's raring to go
Slingers' new signing wants to make an instant impact
SINGAPORE SLINGERS v WESTPORTS MALAYSIA DRAGONS
(Tonight, 8pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
Sporting tattoos and a head full of braids, he bears more than a passing resemblance to his favourite player - NBA great Allen Iverson.
The Singapore Slingers are hoping that Alexander-Stanley Austria will have as big an impact as Iverson had on the Philadelphia 76ers when they tip off the seventh season of the Asean Basketball League against the Westports Malaysia Dragons at the OCBC Arena tonight.
Point guard Austria, affectionately known as Alli, has been brought in to replace good friend and fellow American-Filipino Kris Rosales, who signed for PBA's TNT KaTropa.
Austria had been drafted by Manny Pacquiao's PBA team Mahindra Enforcers last year before joining Pilipinas MX3 Kings, but saw limited playing time, and is now keen to show the ABL just what he is capable of.
The 25-year-old, who averaged 2.9 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.8 steals per game, said: "Kris did a great job to help the Slingers make the ABL play-off finals last season, but I'm pretty sure I can fill his shoes.
"I have been working really hard and of course, it is not as gratifying when you don't get as much playing time as you want.
"So, you can say I have something to prove but I'm also a team-oriented guy and I understand you can win championships only as a team.
"As a point guard, I can bring a lot of energy to the team. The coaching staff wants to mould me into a leader and I'm trying to learn to get used to that.
"I have already seen improvement since I came to Singapore. Now I just have to be more consistent."
Austria, who was born in California and played NCAA Division II basketball for the San Francisco State Gators, has been in Singapore for a month and has settled down well.
He said: "I'm living with the other imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander and they are itching to get back to action, which rubs off on me.
"The team are great, they are tough and hardworking. The locals play with pride and I can relate to that. I really like my teammates and the coaching staff a lot."
As his team maintain their philosophy of signing three imports - one less than it is allowed - so that local players can have more playing time, Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang expects Austria and all his foreign players to deliver.
He said: "Alli is more aggressive and he can take contact. As a point guard, I need him to organise our defence and be a player who looks to pass more rather than take shots.
"He still can be more vocal, but I understand it takes time to get familiar with our system.
"Kris also struggled with us at first before becoming an asset and I hope Alli can settle down as soon as possible."
Neo insisted that revenge will not be on their minds against the Dragons tonight even though the Malaysians' 3-2 win in the finals series in March deprived them of a first ABL title.
"Forget about last season. There are new teams and new players this season so we look forward to a fresh start," he said.
"There have been changes to the Dragons in terms of their coach and imports.
"To prepare for next year's SEA Games, it looks like they are following us in terms of signing just three imports - forward Skylar Spencer, centre Marcus Melvin and point guard Freddie Goldstein.
"We will have to do without our centre Delvin Goh, who has National Service, forward Wu Qingde and guard Larry Liew who are injured. But I think we can do well as long we go out hard every time and play good team defence.
"We also hope the fans will remember the great atmosphere they created last season and come out to support us because it gives the team an extra boost to have a full arena behind us."
- Guards: Alexander-Stanley Austria, Desmond Oh, Wong Wei Long, Larry Liew, Mitchell Folkoff
- Forwards: Wu Qingde, Leon Kwek, Tay Ding Loon, Xavier Alexander, Ng Han Bin, Kelvin Lim
- Centres: Delvin Goh, Justin Howard.
6 TEAMS, 1 TROPHY
- Founded: 2006
- Head coach: Neo Beng Siang
They were just one win away from landing their first Asean Basketball League title but lost 3-2 to the Westports Malaysia Dragons in last season's play-off finals.
Buoyed by their first finals appearance, the Singapore Slingers have kept faith with the bulk of last season's roster to ensure continuity.
Americans Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander have been retained alongside local stars such as Wong Wei Long and Wu Qingde, as the Slingers continue their practice of signing just three imports instead of four, so that the locals can have more playing time.
However, National Service commitments will rule out 2m centre Delvin Goh, guard John Ng and forward Toh Qing Huang for at least the start of the season even as they welcome back guards Larry Liew and Mitchell Folkoff.
Slingers co-owner, general manager and assistant coach Michael Johnson said: "Our philosophy is fear no one, respect everyone. We have a good following and we are expecting bigger and better things this season."
WESTPORTS MALAYSIA DRAGONS
- Founded: 2009
- Head coach: Chris Thomas
One of just two pioneer ABL teams, alongside Singapore Slingers, all eyes will be on the Dragons to see if they can retain their title.
They will have to cope with the loss of coach Ariel Vanguardia and their entire import slate of Reginald Johnson, Calvin Godfrey, Matthew Wright and Jason Brickman.
Replacing Vanguardia is American coach Chris Thomas, who had stints as a scout with the Chicago Bulls, the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz. He was involved in the development of players like Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry.
The arrival of Thomas has attracted American imports such as 22-year-old Skylar Spencer, a 2.08m forward who has NCAA experience and had worked out with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Boston Celtics, 2.03m centre Marcus Melvin and 1.78m point guard Freddie Goldstein.
General manager Yakub Hussaini said: "After winning our first title in six seasons, this is a new chapter for us. We have learnt what it takes - not just a good team, but good management as well."
- Founded: 2011
- Head coach: Anthony Garbelotto
The Vietnamese team qualified for back-to-back play-off semi-finals in the last two seasons for the first time.
They strengthened the squad with the addition of two-time ABL import MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Christien Charles, who stands at 2.16m.
Making his return to the team is the high-flying 2m forward Lenny Daniel, whose 22.3 points and 13.8 rebounds per game ranked second and fourth respectively among last season's stats leaders.
Charles, whose blocking abilities will be crucial to Heat's fortunes, said: "Having played against the Saigon Heat for the past three seasons, one thing that's very clear when you set foot into the arena is how engaged the fans are here.
"They have a very dedicated fanbase. Every home game has been crowded, loud, and electric. They faithfully support the Heat through wins and losses."
- Founded: 2016
- Head coach: Mac Cuan
After Pilipinas MX3 Kings' last-placed finish last season, Alab Pilipinas have picked up the mantle, with general manager Charlie Dy setting a bold target of making it to the play-off finals.
The biggest name on their roster is 23-year-old point guard Bobby Ray Parks Jr who had played in the NBA Development League for Texas Legends, and is only the second Filipino to do so after Japeth Aguilar in 2012.
Filipino-American Lawrence Domingo, a 1.95m forward, is another energetic player who can defend multiple positions and has decent shooting from the outside.
The suave pair of South Korean brothers Lee Seung Jun and Lee Dong Jun have also signed up for the project, and it is clear that this team are out to win on and off the pitch as they have planned to stage their home games not just in Manila but also in Binan, Laguna, Cebu and Davao.
"We really want to promote grassroots basketball because what we will be doing before our games is that we will conduct free basketball clinics to the community," said Dy.
HONG KONG EASTERN LONG LIONS
- Founded: 1932
- Head coach: Eduard Torres
Despite their long history, it wasn't until last year that the team devoted HK$10 million ($1.85m) to become the first professional basketball team in Hong Kong.
Boosted after being crowned A2 Division champions in 2015, they then set their sights on regional competitions such as the ABL.
Former Houston Rockets power forward Patrick Sullivan, a 28-year-old American who stands at 2.06m, is said to have signed up for the upcoming season, and will bring with him six seasons of pro experience.
It will be a both a dream and a challenge for a rookie team to win the ABL title, and Eastern's Spanish coach Eduard Torres said: "My impression of Hong Kong's basketball level is very good. Players are humble, love to play, and want to get better.
"Honestly, I am not thinking about (instant success). I am totally focused on how to prepare and how to work to get that success for my team. In my opinion, it is not solely the will to win. It is the will to prepare yourself to be able to win that matters."
- Founded: 2016
- Head coach: Tryston Lawrence
When they tip off at home against fellow ABL debutants Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions on Sunday, Kaohsiung Truth will create history by becoming the first professional Christian ministry basketball team.
Kaohsiung Truth are primarily backed by The Truth Network, a group of Christian Radio Stations in the United States that broadcasts and streams live 24 hours a day throughout the year.
Kaohsiung Truth's goal is to be the best basketball team in Asia while creating a positive influence by interacting with integrity toward the people of all countries.
In 26-year-old Sabatino Chen, a 1.9m guard, and 31-year-old Chris Oliver, a 2.03m forward, they have two cagers who have played at NCAA level.
Truth CEO Wesley Hsu, a 1.9m point guard, is also on the roster. The excitable 32-year-old American-Taiwanese, who has played in far-flung leagues in Palestine and Iceland, said: "We are here to love everybody of every country and every religion... We are also ready to play and be competitive."