New Nanhai signing Howard relishes battle with former Slingers teammates
First match of ABL season will see American represent Nanhai and take on old Slingers teammates
In just two-and-a-half seasons with the Singapore Slingers, Justin Howard set record-highs of 1,353 points and 1,015 rebounds, endearing himself to the local crowd.
But, in a somewhat surprising move, the Slingers released the 36-year-old American centre after the end of last term.
It didn't take long for suitors to come knocking on his door.
When the new Asean Basketball League (ABL) season begins at the Nanhai Gymnasium tomorrow, Howard will be donning the colours of newly established Nanhai Kung Fu Basketball Club, against his old teammates no less.
But the reigning ABL Defensive Player of the Year, who averaged 24.4 points and 18.1 rebounds per game during the regular season last term, insists he feels no animosity towards the Slingers.
He told The New Paper: "I have played in 16 countries and Singapore is the first where I have stayed for so long. The fans love me, and I love them, too.
"Singapore was like my second home and I have only good memories there.
"I made many good friends, the food was good, and I knew where everything was. The Singapore chicken rice... come on, you can't beat that.
It happens, and so it’s the end of a chapter and I’m about to start on a new one. Justin Howard, on leaving Singapore Slingers
"But the Slingers decided they wanted to move in a new direction. It happens, and so it's the end of a chapter and I'm about to start on a new one.
"I'm definitely looking to win from the first match."
After narrowly losing the last two ABL Finals with the Slingers, Howard is desperate to end his hoodoo.
He believes he has seen enough of his Nanhai teammates during training to be optimistic about their title chances in the upcoming campaign.
He said: "Nanhai are a good offensive team with young players, some of whom have played at China Basketball Association (CBA) level.
"We beat the ABL champions Hong Kong Eastern and some CBA teams pre-season. While they don't really count, anytime you win, it gives you confidence, and we are definitely aiming for the championship."
In the Slingers camp, coach Neo Beng Siang feels it's business as usual.
He believes that new addition, 30-year-old Canadian Ryan Wright, can provide another dimension to their play.
Said Neo: "Justin did great for us and we appreciate his contributions, but he is 36, and we have to plan for the future.
"Ryan is a different type of player, who may not score as many points as Justin, but is more athletic and all-rounded.
"We are also looking for the other players, especially our locals, to step up in terms of scoring."
Meanwhile, Nanhai team manager Lukas Peng acknowledged the role his club are playing as the ABL's first franchise from mainland China.
He said: "It will be very challenging but we have a long-term plan in place to steadily become a contender.
"We will sign and develop young local talents - CBA youth-team drop-outs, college players, and young CBA players who have been cut - with the goal of starting and furthering their careers."