MANILA — In what could be the most open title race yet, everything will be at stake when the 10th season of the ASEAN Basketball League tips off on Nov. 16.
Last season’s champion CLS Knights Indonesia opted to beg off this season, leaving the nine other holdover clubs plus expansion side Fubon disputing the title.
Fubon, known in the Taiwanese hoops circuit as the Braves, joins the Formosa Dreamers as the second Taiwanese side playing in ABL.
The Dreamers, after a nightmarish 2018 season, suddenly came alive last season, barging to the playoffs as the top seed.
However, their playoff inexperience was exposed in the league quarterfinals when Mono Vampire, tagged as favorite to win this season, swept them out of contention.
Formosa is looking to complete unfinished business with new coach Kyle Julius, formerly of Saigon Heat.
Mono, on the other hand, will be enjoying the arrival of former Macau players Anthony Tucker and Ryan Watkins to backstop Tyler Lamb, Mike Singletary, Moses Morgan, and Freddie Lish.
With Julius’ departure, Kevin Yurkus stepped in as the Heat’s coach, and his first plan of action is to give his local players more playing time, even offering the starting point guard role to a homegrown.
Alab Pilipinas, on the other hand, will be playing for the first time without three-time local Most Valuable Player Ray-Ray Parks, who is now in the Philippine Basketball Association, but Jason Brickman’s arrival will surely provide some offensive flow to the 2018 champ.
The 10 participating teams are divided into two groups based on proximity.
Fubon, Formosa, Macau, Eastern, and Zhuhai are placed in Group A, a Chinese division of sorts.
Meanwhile, the Southeast Asian sides, Alab, Mono, Saigon, Malaysia, and Singapore, will make up Group B.
“We just drew a line kung sino ang pinakamaglalapit (on who will make up the divisions),” Jericho Ilagan, ABL’s chief operating officer, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) during the season’s press launch at the Conrad Manila Hotel in Pasay on Thursday
He said the reason for the grouping is to cut some expenses among the teams.
Teams within the same group will face each other four times and will face the teams from the other group twice, meaning each team will play a total of 26 games in the regular season.
The top eight teams after the regular season will qualify for the best-of-three crossover quarterfinals.
The winners of the quarterfinals will face off in the best-of-five semifinals with the survivors engaging in another best-of-five series for all the marbles.
Ilagan believes that everyone can dispute for the championship considering their buildup to the ABL season.
“Everybody’s stacked up this year,” he said, putting as an example the case of the Slingers, who just signed former Long Lion Marcus Elliott, and the Braves’ plans to tap former National Basketball Association rising star OJ Mayo as one of their world heritage imports. Ivan Stewart Saldajeno/PNA- northboundasia.com