Slingers eyeing title tilt

Slingers player Wu Qingde (with ball) trying to get past Kelvin Lim (on his right) and another defender during Friday's training at the OCBC Arena. American Xavier Alexander (No. 21) is one of the team's three foreigners. The Slingers play Pilipinas
Slingers player Wu Qingde (with ball) trying to get past Kelvin Lim (on his right) and another defender during Friday's training at the OCBC Arena. American Xavier Alexander (No. 21) is one of the team's three foreigners. The Slingers play Pilipinas MX3 Kings today.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Despite loss of key men, Neo's team top six-team ABL with seven games to go

In five previous seasons of the Asean Basketball League (ABL), success has eluded the Singapore Slingers. But now, with seven games left, the team from the Republic are top of the table and dreaming of glory despite their squad being weakened by departures and their foreign player quota going unfilled.

After 11 games, the Slingers head into today's clash against the Pilipinas MX3 Kings at the OCBC Arena confident that the silverware drought could end this campaign.

Coach Neo Beng Siang's men have an impressive win-loss ratio of 9-2 and are currently on a six-match winning streak, which is bad news for the Kings, who prop up the six-team table.

Second-placed Hi-Tech Bangkok City also have a 9-2 record, though the Slingers boast a better head-to-head record.

Despite enjoying the view from the summit, team captain Desmond Oh insists that his side cannot afford to be complacent.

The 29-year-old said: "Our points can be spread out better, and our defence as a team can be better.

USING OTHER STRENGTHS

Skill-wise, we are at a disadvantage... Hence we have to be more aggressive on defence and play a running game to make up for it.''

NEO BENG SIANG, Singapore Slingers coach, on the team's strategy.

"We have a very good chance of winning (the league) this season, but everyone, even the bench players, need to continue to step up and contribute."

Key to the Slingers' surge is their high-tempo pressing game. Neo said: "We realised that skill-wise, we are at a disadvantage compared to other teams.

"Hence we have to be more aggressive on defence and play a running game to make up for it."

Neo, in his fifth season in charge, has implemented a lot of "running games and drills with the ball", which include half-court offence and three-on-three games.

The 49-year-old, who is also the national team's head coach, stressed that technical and tactical training is not neglected, though the emphasis remains on court fitness to ensure that his men outrun and outlast their opponents.

One challenge he has managed to overcome is the loss of key players. National stalwarts Russel Low, Lim Shengyu and Larry Liew left the Slingers for various reasons.

But, rather than depending on foreign imports (each team are allowed four signings) to fill the void, Neo chose to give young local players more playing time. The Slingers have only three imports - Americans Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander and Filipino Kris Rosales.

Neo said: "We want to give local youngsters a chance, and blood them for the national team."

He pointed out 20-year-old centre Delvin Goh, in his third season, as one of the outstanding youth players, along with first-year rookie Leon Kwek, 19.

"He (Delvin) played well at the (2015) Fiba Championships. For his position, he's a little disadvantaged due to his size (2m) but this year, he has stepped up," he said.

Neo has already delivered the first of his pre-season promises by blooding the youngsters.

His second? To deliver a title. And his hard-running Slingers are making sure he remains on track.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Slingers eyeing title tilt'. Print Edition | Subscribe