The ASEAN Basketball League has come a long way in the past decade. So have three of the most storied franchises in the league: the Westports Malaysia Dragons; the Singapore Slingers; and the Saigon Heat.
All three teams will be returning to add on to their history in the upcoming ABL 2017-2018 season.
The Dragons and the Slingers have been with the ABL since day one. The Saigon Heat joined as an expansion team in 2011 and has always been a part of the league since.
Having been with the league for so long, the teams have experienced the overall growth and are more than ready for another season of entertainment.
“For a league that is only moving into its 8th season it has grown from strength to strength,” Michael Johnson, General Manager of the Singapore Slingers says. “The fan base has increased in both attendance and interest, teams and quality of the competition continues to get better every season. TV coverage for such a young league is also very good, fans can follow their teams Live on TV or via the league live streaming no matter where they are playing.”
“I think the ABL has grown tremendously through the past years, especially with the expansion of new teams and the level of basketball. It has attracted a bigger following.” Adds Ken Yap, Team Manager of the Westports Malaysia Dragons.
Not only has the league enjoyed growth in fan following and media coverage, the talent-level within the league itself keeps on rising every season.
“The league is well respected throughout the world and it obviously has some great coaches and very high level players.” Freshly appointed Saigon Heat Head Coach Kyle Julius says. “I think the league is special because it is constantly growing the game in SEA and providing amazing opportunities for the local players in the region as well as foreign players to come and experience the culture and play at a high level.”
Even as the only three franchises to have played at least 100 regular season games, they aren’t looking to stop there. The teams are looking to build onto their legacy with an expanded playing field this upcoming season.
Throughout all of their seven seasons in the league, the Singapore Slingers have made the playoffs five times including a current run of back-to-back Finals appearances. In the recent 2016-2017 campaign, they finished with a 13-7 for a second seed in the Playoffs. The Slingers have been using the ASEAN Basketball League as a platform to gradually raise the level of their local players for years. Now they are starting to harvest the fruits of the seeds they planted seasons ago.
“The ABL has been beneficial for all the teams involved as it has given their local players more exposure to higher level competition over a 6 month competition and it has also given those countries involved a renewed interest in the game,” Johnson says. “This is particularly the case for Singapore with the Slingers going with one less import then other teams from the outset of the ABL competition which has meant more playing time for our local players.”
The team can now rely on solid contributions from their local players. Two-time ABL Local MVP, Wong Wei Long, has developed into a constant double-digit scoring contributor. Other younger players like Delvin Goh and Leon Kwek have also had their share of impact despite their young age.
The Slingers will be looking to bank on that continued development in their quest to win their first ABL Championship.
The Westports Malaysia Dragons themselves are also aiming at an ABL title, a feat they achieved two years ago. They suffered quite a turnaround last season, failing to make the postseason altogether for the first time in franchise history after finishing with a 7-13 record. It was an understandable result considering the team had changed their head coach and team building philosophy. Similarly to the Singapore Slingers, the Dragons shifted their strategy to sign only one Heritage Import which in turn gave more minutes to their local players.
“Definitely one of the biggest growth and benefist our team has had from the league is our players.” Yap says. “Malaysia doesn’t have a domestic league or competitions which lasts more than a month. The ABL has provided an avenue for our players to have continous highly competitive games.”
There were growing pains, but the benefits were clear as the season progressed. Players like Kuek Tian Yuan and Ivan Yeo were producing with confidence towards the end of the season.
“Fans will probably see more time for locals this year,” Yap adds. “We are looking at developing our locals after the poor showing from the SEA Games. However, the fans will definitely still see the fighting spirit of the team. We have our team tagline, which is “Greater Together” that brings out the personality of the team.”
“It was developed with the feeling of unity among the players and the fans. Having a sense of belonging to each other, and as they say, our fans are our sixth man on the court.”
The Dragons are hoping that the local Malaysian players will continue to develop to bring the team back to glory in the ABL.
As the youngest of the three franchises, the Saigon Heat have steadily climbed the ladder of success in the ABL. While the two aforementioned teams have had their ups and downs, the Saigon Heat have gradually improved each year.
After joining the league in 2011, the Heat went two straight seasons without making the playoffs gathering only 12 wins in 43 games. With the additional firepower from Heritage Import David Arnold, the Heat were able to make their first playoff appearance in 2014. From there, the Heat have made three straight postseason appearances in the ABL. Each year, the Saigon Heat kept on adding one more piece to the puzzle, inching closer to their ultimate goal. They finished 8-12 last season and secured the final playoff spot.
The Heat are back for another season, not only for a chance to take the next step and make it to the ABL Finals but also to keep on developing the basketball scene in the country.
“The goal for the Saigon Heat this season will be to get better everyday,” says new Head Coach Kyle Julius. “The team is run with tremendous professionalism and has an amazing fan base.”
“The organization has a great relationship with the community and is doing a great job growing the game and giving Vietnamese players great opportunities. I want to continue that and look towards building on the foundation they have already created.”
These three teams have been a solid core of the ASEAN Basketball League since it’s early stages. Their return is great build up for another entertaining season of ASEAN Basketball League basketball which is announced to tipoff November 17.