The ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) will be making a huge stride forward in their eight-year existence with a record nine teams set to take part in the 2017-18 season.
Only six teams – from Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam – took part in the league last season, which ran from November 2016 to April 2017.
However, the league is set for bigger competition, with teams from China, Thailand and Indonesia set to take part too. Not only that, all nine teams have also signed on to compete for “multiple years”, according to the league’s Chief Operating Officer, Jericho Ilagan. It is a move that is set to stabilise a league that has seen teams join and leave almost every year.
“That’s the commitment that they (the teams) have given us… we found partners that will honour that commitment,” Ilagan, 38, told Yahoo News Singapore at the season launch of the ABL held at the Shangri La Hotel in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday (17 October).
“We did our due diligence to ensure that it’s not just words, but that they are actually committing to us. We have signed agreements with them. We don’t want to fall into the same trap of trying to get six teams and just going one season. A minimum nine teams will come back next year.”
Five teams from the previous season – the Singapore Slingers, champions Hong Kong Eastern Sports Club (formerly known as the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions), Alab Pilipinas, Saigon Heat and Westport Malaysia Dragons – are returning.
They will be joined by Formosa Dreamers from Chinese Taipei, Indonesia’s CLS Knights, who are one of the oldest and most storied basketball franchise in Southeast Asia, as well as China’s Nanhai Long Lions, who are a development team for Chinese Basketball Association team Guangzhou Long Lions.
When asked if the ABL will be including teams from the other ASEAN countries that do not participate in the ABL, Ilagan said that it is still an ongoing process.
“We’ve looked at it, but I don’t think the other countries are ready at the moment. But we are working with national federations as well to see how the ABL can assist those federations…”
Singapore Slingers aim for third finals appearance
The Singapore Slingers, who have been in the finals of the past two seasons, are aiming to make it three in a row this season again, said general manager Michael Johnson. However, this year’s team will have a fairly different roster. The team has released import centre Justin Howard, while Leon Kwek will be undergoing national service.
In addition, forward Wu Qingde is still out with injury, while Mitchell Folkoff, who played a key role in the Slingers’ run to the finals last season, has opted to focus on running his and will not be returning.
They have signed young point-guard Lim Junyuan, who saw action with the Singapore national team in the recent SEA Games, as well as American centre Ryan Wright. Russel Low, who made his debut in the 2015 ABL, is also back with the team.
Despite the changes, Johnson still continues to believe in the team. “We are a good team. Our system really works well with the guys we have. It’s been no secret we are smaller team than everyone else and we are also behind in overall skill level, but like the national team did in the last three SEA Games, they are still able to medalled without any imports,” Johnson said.
“I think we play as well as a team with anyone else. We are going to make sure everything we do is going to be orientated around as a team, and with the system we have.”
More sports stories: