Basketball: Slingers hope Rosales the only foreigner leaving

Singapore Slingers' point guard Kris Rosales.
Singapore Slingers' point guard Kris Rosales.PHOTO: KUK THEW

After a gut-wrenching end to their Asean Basketball League (ABL) season last month, the Singapore Slingers are facing an uncertain off-season, as they try to retain the core players who led them to the ABL Finals.

While they eventually lost the best-of-five series 2-3 to the Westports Malaysia Dragons - faltering in their final hurdle to win a first ABL title - they won new fans with their teamwork and never-say-die spirit.

With young local upstarts like Wu Qingde and Delvin Goh meshing well with veterans Desmond Oh and Wong Wei Long as well as the three foreign imports, the Slingers looked primed for another title challenge next season if the key players stay on.

However, with several months to go before the new season commences, much uncertainty is swirling over the foreign trio - Americans Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander, and Filipino-American Kris Rosales - who were major contributors to the Slingers' recent success.

All three have received offers to play elsewhere, although 2.13m- tall centre Howard has indicated that he is willing to return and don the red-and-white Slingers jersey again.

Currently enjoying some downtime in Thailand, Howard - who averaged 22.2 points and 12 rebounds in the ABL Finals - told The Straits Times that he has received offers from South America and Asia.

The 34-year-old said: "I was devastated about the (Finals) loss, I lost sleep over it. But overall, it's been a good season with good memories.

"There has been no official contract with the Slingers, but I can see myself going back next season."

According to assistant coach Michael Johnson, swingman Alexander, who is back with his family in the United States, is also interested in rejoining the team.

The 27-year-old was another key player, averaging 15 points and 9.2 rebounds in the Finals, but with three children back home, he may have second thoughts on plying his trade far away from his family for another season.

Point guard Rosales, back in the Philippines after undergoing surgery for a hand injury, is the most unlikely of the trio to return.

The Straits Times understands that the 25-year-old is in negotiations with Philippine Basketball Association sides Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters and Phoenix Fuel Masters.

While it would have been ideal to have the foreign trio back, Johnson accepts that losing players is part and parcel of every season.

He said: "They're all fantastic guys; hopefully we get to sign two of the three. If that doesn't work out, it's not the first time we'll look to get other imports."

Besides the foreign players, three of the local players - Goh, Toh Qing Huang and John Ng - could be enlisting for full-time national service this year. Goh, 19, was approached by Thai team Dunkin Raptors last week.

If their schedules oblige, the local trio could take their lead from Wu, who juggled his NS commitments and Slingers training to have a breakthrough season as the team's best three-point (43.1 per cent in the regular season) shooter.

Uncertainties aside, the Slingers can at least welcome back Oh and Wong, both of whom are set to resume their Slingers stints.

Oh, 29, the team captain since 2012, confirmed that he will return after taking time out to heal his niggling knee injuries. Wong, 27, is also keen to carry on until he is 35, despite running a basketball academy.

The team could be further boosted by the possible return of former Slinger Larry Liew, who left last season owing to NS commitments.

Said Johnson of the sharpshooter: "He was a big loss to us during the season and could have been an extra boost to bring us the championship. He's very keen to return."

With the local core likely to remain intact, it is no wonder that Howard is eager to return. He said: "I've been playing professionally for 13 years, and I've never had such a good relationship and bond with my team.

"The guys in the team always treat me like family, and even invited me into their homes. Ideally, I really want to go back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'Slingers hope Rosales the only foreigner leaving'. Print Edition | Subscribe