As the eighth season of the ASEAN Basketball League kicks into another gear in the playoffs, the Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Team remain the team to beat. Despite finishing second place after the elimination round, they are still after all, the defending champions.
While five other countries will be gunning for Eastern’s throne, they carry with them an achievement that no team has accomplished this season. Through 20 games, Eastern have not changed an import – a rare feat in the ABL.
“It says loyalty. It says it has trust in the system. It has trust in the guys that they hire,” reigning World Import MVP Marcus Elliott said about the unique achievement.
“A lot of teams made changes because of us and we recognize that. Instead of trying to figure out how to get better or who can we bring in, we just kept ourselves as a tight unit and stayed together,” he added.
Elliott is a returnee import from last year’s title run alongside Thai-American Tyler Lamb, the lengthy do-it-all forward who has a penchant of knocking down three’s and getting a ton of steals. This season, they also employed Christian Stanhardinger. The Filipino-German has already made waves playing for the Philippines National Team before the season had started, both in the FIBA Asia Cup and the SEA Games. Last but not least, they acquired the services of the oldest active player in the ABL in Ryan Moss. Through thick and thin, Hong Kong has kept these four guys throughout the season.
“[Age] is a number. It don’t determine how you live, how you live your life or nothing. I’m kinda wired differently from the average person,” Moss proudly said, who was already 43-years-old when he debuted last November. “My mindset is different. If you take care of your body, your body will take care of you. As simple as that.”
In the eight-season history of the ABL, only a handful of teams have not made import changes in a single season. There were the Singapore Slingers who achieved the feat in three separate years. There were also the Thailand Tigers back in 2008, the 2014 HiTech Bangkok City team who made a last minute addition in Patrick Cabahug to capture the title that year, and most recently, the Kaohsiung Truth of last season who also made late additions.
The only other team who won a championship by not making any changes or even mid-season additions were the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the ABL’s sixth season. The four-man crew of Reggie Johnson, Calvin Godfrey, Matthew Wright, and Jason Brickman, wreaked havoc in the league on their way to their first ever title in franchise history.
This year, Hong Kong Eastern hope to replicate that success. They went with their gut and kept the guys who they believe can win it all and earn back-to-back championships.
The key to their ongoing success is not solely based on the talent that they possess, but rather the amount of accountability and shared responsibility that they have.
“We don’t hold any punches. If somebody is messing up or somebody is on [expletive] or whatever, we straight shooters. We tell it to your face and let you know how it is,” Elliott bluntly said.
It also helped that the entire Hong Kong team is living in the same building. They travel to practice and games together, plus make it a point to try to be with each other during meals.
“That’s the one thing he [Coach Edu Torres] looks for – guys who bond together off on the court. The bond here is crazy. We’re here together off the court,” Moss shared. “And when you’re [together] off the court it transfers on the court. That’s why we’re still together.”
The defending champions have a tall task ahead of them in their quest for their second straight title. As the playoffs get underway, Hong Kong will trust in the guys that got them up to this point in the hopes of winning it all again.
“It’s a family. We’re proud of that,” Elliott said.