Nine teams for new ABL season
Three new outfits from Indonesia, China and Thailand to join regional basketball league
The Asean Basketball League (ABL) has made a three-point play as it is set to increase its roster from six teams last season to nine for the upcoming tip-off in November.
On Friday, Indonesian side CLS Knights Surabaya announced their decision to join the ABL after withdrawing from the Indonesian Basketball League.
The New Paper understands that a team from China, believed to be from Foshan, will also take part, along with Thailand's Mono Vampire, who are making a comeback after making their debut in the 2015/16 season.
The three teams will join defending champions Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions, two of ABL's founding members Singapore Slingers and Westports Malaysia Dragons, as well as Vietnam's Saigon Heat and the Philippines' Alab Pilipinas.
In addition, last season's wooden spoonists Kaohsiung Truth have been disbanded and will be replaced by another Taiwanese team Formosa Dreamers.
Going into its eighth season, the ABL may go through a format change that could see the introduction of three divisions in which the top two teams from the regular season proceed to the semi-finals and the third to sixth teams fight for the other two spots.
The ABL was launched in 2009 with six teams, expanded to eight in 2012 before reverting to six from 2013.
To ensure continuity and stability, it is believed that the nine teams have to commit to playing the next two seasons in the ABL.
Confirming the record number of teams, ABL and Slingers co-owner Wee Siew Kim told TNP: "We want a good basketball scene for the audience by bringing in strong teams from the region, and we believe there is still room for more expansion."
We want a good basketball scene for the audience by bringing in strong teams from the region, and we believe there is still room for more expansion. asean basketball league and Singapore Slingers co-owner Wee Siew Kim
The expansion of the ABL means it will be harder for the Slingers to win their first ABL championship.
Compared to other outfits, Neo Beng Siang's team have to cope with National Service commitments and a self-imposed policy of signing just three imports instead of the allowed four.
Nevertheless, Slingers co-owner, general manager and assistant coach Michael Johnson said: "I'm optimistic we can have a good year.
"We had just five days to prepare for this Merlion Cup, we didn't play anywhere near our potential, but we managed to compete against strong Chinese and Korean teams.
"We are only going to get better. I think the expansion is awesome for the league.
"Every game that a local team play is shown live on TV in their respective countries and that's fantastic.
"There are good teams with good set-ups. For example, Mono have got their own stadium, so it's great. Without doubt, this will be the hardest season to win (the title).
"In the past seven seasons, there were always one team that someone has four wins against and I would be surprised if anyone got swept like that this time."
Slingers' point guard and two-time ABL local Most Valuable Player Wong Wei Long said: "I'm excited about the upcoming ABL season as more teams probably means more games against opponents with different styles.
"It will definitely make it tougher for us to win the championship, but we are definitely looking forward to the challenge."
Meanwhile, in the final of the Merlion Cup yesterday, the Adelaide 36ers wrested the title from defending champions Shanghai Sharks as the Australian team defeated the Chinese side 101-81.
The Slingers finished fourth after they lost 78-68 to South Korea's Jeonju KCC Egis in the third-place play-off.