First-time finalists face likely departure of imports

KUALA LUMPUR • Shoulders slumped, heads down - minutes before the final whistle yesterday, the Singapore Slingers knew that their first Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals appearance would end in bitter defeat.

A double-digit deficit against the Westports Malaysia Dragons proved too big a hurdle to overcome, and they eventually lost the deciding Game 5 to end a spirited challenge for honours this season.

As the downcast Slingers retreated to their dressing room - while the jubilant Dragons celebrated with chest-bumps and wefies - head coach Neo Beng Siang tried to put a positive spin on their defeat.

He said: "I'm proud of the team. We lost the game, but we won the fans, that's very important. Now that everything's over, we'll just have a good rest, and think of what's next later."

It could be a very different Slingers team that takes to the court when the new season begins later this year. The three imports - Americans Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander, and Filipino Kris Rosales - will likely be playing elsewhere.

Rosales has already received several offers to play in the Philippine Basketball Association, while the Singaporeans could be occupied with work or school commitments, or in key reserve Delvin Goh's case, national service enlistment.

Assistant coach Michael Johnson said: "These guys deserve a well-earned rest, they've been going at it since January last year preparing for June's SEA Games. A few of them need some rest, get work done on their injuries, and come back more focused than ever."

One of them is captain Desmond Oh, who failed to score yesterday.

Amid the Finals heartbreak, he said: "This is the first time the whole team played in front of such a big crowd. Next year, we'll know how to handle this situation."

Oh, who had intended to end his career with the Slingers after this season, is now raring to go for another season after taking time off to treat his niggling knee injuries.

Addressing the travelling Slingers fans, he said: "I'm sorry the team disappointed the fans but we will be back. Hopefully they will continue to support us, and give us the energy they always have."

And with that, the Slingers quietly left the arena, back to their hotel to catch a night bus home.

Nicholas Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 27, 2016, with the headline 'First-time finalists face likely departure of imports'. Print Edition | Subscribe