The Asean Basketball League (ABL) will break new ground when the ninth season tips off next month. Not only will the 2017-18 campaign feature a record nine teams, it will also include a franchise from China for the first time.
The Nanhai Long Lions from Guangdong will host the Singapore Slingers on Nov 17 at the Nanhai Gymnasium in the season-opener.
Head coach Neo Beng Siang is hoping it will be third time lucky for the Slingers, losing finalists in the past two years, and wants to get off to a winning start.
He said yesterday: "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 Slingers are one of five returning teams from last term. The others are defending champions Hong Kong Eastern, Westports Malaysia Dragons, Saigon Heat (Vietnam) and Alab Pilipinas (Philippines). Thailand's Mono Vampire Basketball Club are also back after skipping last season.
ASEAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE 2017-18
• Hong Kong Eastern, defending champions
• Singapore Slingers
• Westports Malaysia Dragons
• Saigon Heat (Vietnam)
• Alab Pilipinas (Philippines)
• Mono Vampire (Thailand)
• Nanhai Long Lions (China)
• Formosa Dreamers (Chinese Taipei)
• CLS Knights (Indonesia)
• Three groups of three, with teams playing 10 home and away games each.
• Top-two teams overall enter semi-finals, with third to sixth into the quarter-finals.
Wooden-spoonist Kaohsiung Truth have been disbanded and Chinese Taipei side Formosa Dreamers will take their place. They will be joined by fellow debutants CLS Knights of Indonesia.
Eight teams, which was the previous record, participated in 2012.
Unlike previous years, the teams will be divided into three groups, and will play 10 home games and 10 away games over the season.
The overall top-two teams will advance to the semi-finals, while the third to sixth-placed sides will head into the quarter-finals.
The Long Lions, who are affiliated to Chinese Basketball Association outfit Guangzhou Long Lions, intend to blood young talent.
"We want to win and be competitive, but we also want to develop our players, our brand, and our fan base through this opportunity," Long Lions team manager Lukas Peng told the ABL's website.
The Slingers have signed Canadian centre Ryan Wright to partner American Xavier Alexander, filling their world imports quota, but their Asean heritage slot is still open after deciding against acquiring Filipino guard Mikee Reyes.
Forwards Kelvin Lim and Wu Qingde are still recovering from injuries and shooting guard Leon Kwek will miss at least two months after starting national service.
Neo said: "It's a bit of a struggle to get the local players we want with (local club league) National Basketball League going on and players coming back from injury.
"We actually haven't even signed (point guard Wong) Wei Long yet because he was on holiday."