SINGAPORE - After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Asean Basketball League (ABL) is back.
But instead of a full-fledged 5v5 season, it will first resume on a smaller scale with the ABL 3x3 Cup on April 16-17 and a 5v5 friendly tournament on April 19-24 in Bali.
ABL chief executive officer Connor Nguyen also confirmed that plans are afoot for the league's full comeback in September.
Endorsed by Fiba, the US$24,000 (S$32,500) ABL 3x3 Cup is classified as a Lite Quest event and will feature both men's and women's divisions. More than 20 teams - national teams, ABL and other professional club teams - from around 10 countries are expected to participate, including a maximum of two teams from the Singapore Slingers.
Teams can field a maximum of two imports and it is understood that the winners of the men's and women's categories will receive US$10,000 and US$5,000 respectively and a place in a Challenger event, which is itself a qualifier for the Fiba 3x3 World Tour.
Nguyen said: "Due to the pandemic, it has been a very challenging time to organise sports competitions for everyone, but especially for an international league such as the ABL where competition typically entails cross-border travel.
"As things have begun to open up, the ABL is anxious to get back on the court again. The ABL 3x3 Cup is not intended to be a one-off competition as ABL plans to extend our platform from our current 5v5 league into more 3x3 competitions in the future."
A men's 5v5 friendly tournament will commence a day after the 3x3 competition ends, and this is meant to serve as the SEA Games preparation for the Asean national teams, although there other club sides joining as well.
Nguyen also shared that the ABL plans to resume its traditional 5v5 home-and-away league format from September through to next March and is monitoring the region's international travel conditions.
He added: "The calendar and competition format is subject to change should border restrictions in this region not be sufficiently relaxed to make international travel practical.
"Should the home-and-away format not yet be feasible for the 2022 season, ABL may pivot to a centralised competition format where all teams and games are played in one city and location, or alternatively organising a series of tournaments hosted by several countries as part of a competition circuit."
Slingers forward Delvin Goh is licking his lips at the prospect of more international competition after a two-year break.
The Slingers have had to make do with training in groups of five, three times a week, while their five full-time players also coach with the ActiveSG Basketball Academy twice a week. It was not until this year that they were able to train five-a-side on a full court, and in February, they had an international friendly for the first time in two years when they played in Malaysia.
The 26-year-old Singapore international said: "It's nice to hear they are trying their best to bring back the ABL. I miss everything about it - the competition, the travelling, the fans and the atmosphere.
"Many of us in the team are in our 20s where we should be in or reaching our prime, so it feels like we have wasted two years of our basketball careers.
"We were still training, but that is not going to be as intense as competitions, so we are happy and excited. It felt good playing against Malaysia, but it also showed how rusty we are and how much we need to improve."
Likewise, Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang is looking forward to the ABL's return, and the inclusion of the 3x3 element.
The 54-year-old, who is also the principal of the ActiveSG Basketball Academy, which has just concluded its Under-19 and U-16 3x3 Cup competitions, said: "The 10-minute format and 12-second shot clock means it is fast and intense. It is good for the development of young players as it will help them build good fundamental skills.
"We can't wait for ABL action to start again, and the upcoming competitions are a good way to let everyone know that ABL is back."