Basketball: New ABL season to feature a record nine teams, including first Chinese franchise

The Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions celebrating after their win over the Singapore Slingers during the Asean Basketball League Finals at the OCBC Arena on Apr 23, 2017.
The Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions celebrating after their win over the Singapore Slingers during the Asean Basketball League Finals at the OCBC Arena on Apr 23, 2017.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Nine teams are set to compete for the 2017-18 Asean Basketball League (ABL) title, the most the competition has seen in its eight-year history, the league announced on Tuesday (Oct 17).

Of the nine - the previous high was eight teams in 2012 - three are new to the ABL, including the competition's first Chinese team, the Nanhai Long Lions.

The other newcomers are Formosa Dreamers (Chinese Taipei) and CLS Knights Indonesia (Indonesia).

Defending champions Hong Kong Eastern, the Singapore Slingers, Westports Malaysia Dragons, Saigon Heat (Vietnam) and Alab Pilipinas (Philippines) will all return for the upcoming season.

Thailand's Mono Vampire Basketball Club are also back after sitting out last season, having made their ABL debut in 2015.

The Slingers, runners-up for the second consecutive time last season, will get the first look at the Chinese team in the ABL season opener on Nov 17.

Said Slingers head coach Neo Beng Siang: "I'm not that familiar with their style but I think they will be tall, and much more mobile than what we are used to.

"The way Chinese teams play, I'm expecting a lot of inside play mixed with outside shots."

The Long Lions, based in Foshan, are affiliated to Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) side Guangzhou Long Lions, and are seeking to use the ABL to blood young talent.

"We will sign and develop young local talent with the goal of starting them and furthering their careers. They will get playing time early in their career which wouldn't be possible to get elsewhere," Long Lions team manager Lukas Peng told the ABL's website.

"We want to win and be competitive, but we also want to develop our players, our brand, and our fan base through this opportunity."

The Slingers meanwhile are still looking to fill their Asean heritage import slot, after Filipino guard Mikee Reyes failed to impress during the Merlion Cup last month.

Canadian centre Ryan Wright has been signed, joining American swingman Xavier Alexander as the Slingers' two world imports, but the local line-up remains up in the air as well.

Forwards Kelvin Lim and Wu Qingde have yet to fully recover from injuries while shooting guard Leon Kwek will miss at least two months of the season after starting his NS earlier this month.

"It's a bit of a struggle to get all the local players we want with the (local club league) NBL (National Basketball League) still going on and some players coming back from injury," said Neo.

"We actually haven't even signed (point guard Wong) Wei Long yet because he was on holiday the last two weeks, so nothing is certain at this point."