Basketball: Slingers bank on youth and pace

Co-owner Johnson confident of a 'strong run' this season despite the loss of centre Howard

The Singapore Slingers are hoping that being younger, leaner and faster will help them win their maiden Asean Basketball League (ABL) crown in the face of more competition this season.

Two key players - American centre Justin Howard and local star Wong Wei Long - have left the team. Howard, 36, has joined China's Nanhai Kung Fu Basketball Club - Slingers' first opponents today - while Wong, 29, is focusing on running his academy.

Last season's breakout star Leon Kwek has just started National Service but Slingers co-owner, general manager and assistant coach Michael Johnson is not worried.

Ahead of today's season-opener against Nanhai, the 54-year-old Australian said: "We are slightly younger by choice. Hence we are also faster and can improve on our offence to add on to our league-leading defence.

"We have had just one full week to train with our full complement of players and we have registered 12 instead of the maximum 14 players as Leon is in NS and (Wu) Qingde is injured. But we will get better as the season goes on.

"Xavier Alexander makes us click, and our local boys like Larry (Liew) and (Ng) Han Bin have been knocking in their shots in training.


With the departure of Justin Howard, the Singapore Slingers will be counting on their imports Xavier Alexander (left) and Ryan Wright to land the elusive Asean Basketball League title. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

"I'm seeing them do things with more confidence than before.

"Obviously, there are new teams such as Nanhai, Formosa Dreamers (Taiwan), CLS Knights Indonesia and Mono Vampire (Thailand), some of which like Nanhai we don't know much about. This could be a good thing for us as we won't over-analyse and can just focus on our game.

"All things considered, I think we will make another good run. Hopefully we have used up all our bad luck with injury and this will be third time lucky after losing in the finals in the past two seasons."

The new ABL campaign will feature nine teams, up from six. The top two from the regular season will advance directly to the semi-finals and the next four best-ranked teams will play in the quarter-finals.

These stages are held in a best-of-three format while the Finals is a best-of-five series, which Hong Kong Eastern won last season.

To replace the outgoing players, the Slingers have drafted 20-year-old point guard Lim Jun Yuan and signed two foreigners, both 30 - Canadian centre Ryan Wright and Canadian-Filipino AJ Mandani.

Wright impressed with 17.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as the Slingers finished fourth in the Merlion Cup in September while Mandani has been described by a pass master by Johnson.

"I'm looking to help the team in terms of rebounding, interior defence and inside scoring," said the 2.06m Wright. "Having watched some games from last season, I think the Slingers are right up there, but we can still can do better defensively and take better care of the ball."

Mandani, who has plied his trade in the top Thai and Filipino leagues, added: "Most players on this team have been around for a number of years, but I can bring more leadership and energy to the team.

"I also feel more than capable of scoring points and helping to take the scoring pressure off Xavier."

While some of the teams such as Alab Pilipinas have stacked their roster with Philippines internationals such as Bobby Ray Parks Jr and Kiefer Ravena, and even former NBA player Ivan Johnson, the Slingers are not bothered by the lack of a marquee name.

  • SLINGERS' HOME MATCHES 

  • 4pm, OCBC Arena unless stated 

    NOV 26 

    CLS Knights Indonesia

    DEC 10 

    Hong Kong Eastern JAN 7 Tanduay Alab Pilipinas

    JAN 19, 

    8PM Mono Vampire

    JAN 28 

    Westports Malaysia Dragons

    FEB 4 

    Tanduay Alab Pilipinas

    FEB 11 

    Formosa Dreamers

    FEB 25 

    Saigon Heat

    MARCH 4 

    Nanhai Kung Fu MARCH 11 CLS Knights Indonesia

Slingers skipper Desmond Oh, who holds the ABL record for most matches played, with 154 appearances over seven seasons, said: "Every team in the league will have their own good players, and our system of working as a team has brought us to the finals.

"The aim is still to win the championship and we will still rely on our defence and running game.

"If we listen to our coaches and play hard and good defence, we can beat any team."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'Slingers bank on youth and pace'. Print Edition | Subscribe