Slingers eager for Merlion Cup test

The Slingers stalwarts Justin Howard (left), Xavier Alexander and captain Desmond Oh training ahead of the Merlion Cup. They face Taiwanese side Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor today.
The Slingers stalwarts Justin Howard (left), Xavier Alexander and captain Desmond Oh training ahead of the Merlion Cup. They face Taiwanese side Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor today.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Singapore team want to challenge heralded foreign sides ahead of new ABL season

Facing some of the top professional basketball teams in Asia, the Singapore Slingers find themselves as minnows among giants at this week's Merlion Cup.

However, instead of being intimidated by their opponents, the cagers representing Singapore are eager to run their opponents close throughout the tournament.

Said coach Neo Beng Siang: "There is a big difference (between us and the other Merlion Cup teams). But we do not fear them at all. It's a good test for us. Size is the key issue and we got to adjust ourselves to face them.

"Skills-wise, if we can run the floor, play good defence, I think we can put up a good fight and get into the semi-finals. I'd be disappointed if we don't make it."

The five-day invitational kicks off this evening at the OCBC Arena after a 20-year hiatus and it features a formidable six-team line-up.

While former National Basketball Association (NBA) icon Yao Ming - part-owner of the Chinese Basketball Association's (CBA) Shanghai Sharks - had to cancel his three-day visit to Singapore owing to commitments in China, there is no shortage of talent on the court.

  • MERLION CUP

    OCBC Arena (till Sunday)

    GROUP A 

    Singapore Slingers Shanghai Sharks Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor

    GROUP B

    Westports Malaysia Dragons Mighty Sports (Philippines) Seoul Samsung Thunders TODAY 6.30pm: Kinmen v Slingers

    8.30pm: Thunders v Mighty Sports

    TOMORROW

    6.30pm: Dragons v Thunders

    8.30pm: Sharks v Kinmen

    FRIDAY

    6.30pm: Mighty Sports v Dragons

    8.30pm: Slingers v Sharks

    SATURDAY

    6.30pm: Semi-final 1 - Group A winners v Gp B runners-up

    8.30pm: Semi-final 2 - Gp B winners v Gp A runners-up

    SUNDAY 

    6pm: Final

    TICKETS 

    • Sports Hub Tix (online, Singapore Indoor Stadium box office and phone: 3158-7888)

    • All SingPost outlets


    19 
    Years in which the basketball Merlion Cup has not been held. It was last won by Aspac Texmaco of Indonesia in 1996.

The Sharks, Filipino outfit Mighty Sports and Korean team Seoul Samsung Thunders are some foreign teams expected to delight basketball fans.

The Slingers will play their opening group match against Taiwan's Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor today before playing the Sharks on Friday.

The other group has Mighty Sports, Seoul Samsung Thunders and Asean Basketball League (ABL) champions Westports Malaysia Dragons. The top two teams of each group will progress to the semi-finals.

Having recently signed former NBA player Jimmer Fredette, the Sharks, CBA champions in 2002, will be the most difficult test for the hosts.

The Slingers lost by just nine points (40-49) the last time they met the Sharks in 2012, and will have to find a way to counter their taller opponents, most of whom are at least 1.90m tall.

Said national captain Desmond Oh, 30: "The Sharks are taller and bigger than us. So we've got to be fast and execute our plays well."

A full-time cager himself, Oh is relishing the challenge of sparring against the other professionals.

He said: "You are talking about professional teams whom clubs don't usually get to face unless you are as good as them. The games will be of higher intensity and tougher."

The Slingers are also using the tournament as a pre-season warm-up ahead of the new ABL season, which starts in November.

The Slingers are not totally disadvantaged in height though, having retained the services of American imports, 1.95m-tall swingman Xavier Alexander and 2.11m-tall centre Justin Howard for this season.

Said 27-year-old Alexander: "I'm excited for this challenge. I thrive against the big names and I don't shy away from it. It doesn't intimidate me. I would say that I want to throw myself into the fire."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Slingers eager for Merlion Cup test'. Print Edition | Subscribe