It's been nearly seven months since we witnessed the Indonesia Warriors win their first ABL title. Since then, the league has undergone structural and strategic changes that have forced each team to dismantle their rosters and work overtime to find the right combination of 12 men.
First, the league is back to six teams. The Philippine Patriots management decided to join the PBA and the Bangkok Cobras are on hiatus for at least 2013. But at the same time the ABL has contracted, increased league exposure has meant teams don’t want to be left behind. The approach has been two-pronged: 1) import better talent and 2) nurture local talent. Result? Improved quality of play.
The six teams will compete in a 22-game regular season. With the improved imports talent, better local players and rabid fan bases, there will be no easy games in 2013.
A criticism of the ABL in the past was the perceived inconsistency of officiating. Some of this was justified (and some was just whining). The ABL now has a Basketball Operations and Officials Coordinator who will monitor the referees in each game. He has already had clinics to get everyone on the same page with how games are to be called. Will that stop the incessant complaining? Probably not, but it’s a big step forward in the quality control department.
Finally, television. The league reached an agreement with ESPN to broadcast a live game every Friday night at 8:00 PM Hong Kong time. A dedicated time slot will make it easier for the ABL to gain exposure and promote the league. ESPN’s coverage tips off with the Indonesia Warriors and San Miguel Beermen meeting on Friday January 11th (again, that’s at 8:00 PM Hong Kong time. You might want to write it down).
Here’s a snapshot of the six teams as they prepare for the 2013 season. (Remember, all predictions appearing here are worth what you paid for them).
2012 Season Highlights and Lowlights: Slow start to regular season… with team mired under .500, management knew changes were needed…. mid-season acquisition for Stanley Pringle and Evan Brock was the game-changer… finished regular season on a tear and then went on to knock off the Philippine Patriots and San Miguel Beermen to capture the title…
Familiar Faces: Plenty here. Pringle, the league’s best player, will bring his unstoppable crossover dribble back to the point guard spot. Steve Thomas, who led the league with 14.6 rebounds per game in 2012, brings his Samuel Jackson scowl back to Jakarta. Mario Wuysang and Jerick Canada will again split minutes in the backcourt. Head Coach Todd Purves is back to defend the title he won in his first season in charge.
New Faces: Richard Smith joins fellow Filipino Jerick Canada on Indonesia’s roster. Chris Daniels will team with fellow American Steve Thomas. Swen de Ruijter is a long Dutchman who is – and I didn’t even have to look this up - the ABL’s first player named Swen. How will the new faces gel? The Warriors will find out fast, as their first game is a reprise of the 2012 Championship Final with San Miguel Beermen on Friday January 11th (Did I mention this game is live on ESPN at 8:00 PM Hong Kong time? Did you put it in your Outlook calendar? Just checking.)
The Warriors announced today that Stanley Pringle may miss up to 12 weeks due to a knee injury. While its certainly a setback for Indonesia, Pringle looks to be back in plenty of time for the playoffs. And the Warriors are more than one guy. All predictions stand.
2012 Season Highlights and Lowlights: An even .500 in regular season, good enough for the #4 seed in playoffs… lost Game 1 of semifinals to San Miguel in one of the year’s best games… returned to KL to beat San Miguel in elimination game to extend series to 3rd and final game… were one Brian Williams stomach flu away from upsetting Beermen… Malaysians Kwang Yoong Jing (aged 22) and Loh Shee Fai (aged 23) flashed their potential in 2012… MABA Stadium rocked every night.
New Faces: A cast of new imports, led by Cedric Bozeman and Gavin Edwards. Bozeman was briefly in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks. He has big-game experience, as he was part of the UCLA Bruins team that reached the NCAA Championship game in 2006. Edwards played college ball at UConn, and had pro stints in the Ukraine and Korea (South Korea, I mean, not North Korea. There is no pro basketball in Pyongyang, as far as I know). An open question is how all the new faces will blend together for Head Coach Ariel Vanguardia.
Familiar Faces: Brian Williams led the Dragons against the Beermen in last season’s playoffs… and has now joined the Beermen. Look for sparks when these two teams meet for the first time on February 16th in Manila.
2011 Season Highlights and Lowlights: ABL’s feel-good story of the year… began league play with seven straight losses… had one guy, Julius Hodge, handling 50% of the scoring, which NEVER works… made Jason Rabedeaux Head Coach, dumped Hodge, brought in new imports, including workhorses Jahmar Thorpe and Jonathan Jones, completely changed dynamic of team… went 8-6 the rest of the way… most important achievement was introducing Vietnam to the excitement of basketball… best in-game entertainment in league.
New Faces: Dior Lowhorn, Phillip Morrison and David Palmer are the new imports. Look for these three to combine for 50 to 60 points every time out. Filipino Jai Reyes has come over from the defunct Bangkok Cobras and gives the Heat a badly-needed outside threat. But the key for this team will be how Rabedeaux gets minutes and production from his largely untested Vietnamese players. The Heat looked strong in the preseason, sweeping a two-game series against the CBL’s Sichuan Blue Whales.
2012 Season Highlights and Lowlights: League-best 17-4 regular season record… 8-game win streak… reached ABL Finals, losing to Indonesia Warriors 2-1 in a defeat that stunned the nation with the region’s richest basketball pedigree… had multiple games relocated from Ynares Sports Arena due to cockfighting tournaments... dullest cheerleaders in the league… the San Miguel Singers did an a capella version of the Philippine national anthem during the Finals that was superb.
New Faces: Just about everyone! Not content with 2nd place, the Beermen management have gutted the roster. Only Chris Banchero, Christian Luanzon and Leo Avenido are the holdovers from the 2012 squad that reached the Finals. Longtime PBAers Eric Menk and Asi Taulava certainly make the Beermen bigger. But Taulava is 39 and Menk is 38. How much do they have left in the tank?
New Old Face: Brian Williams led the Malaysia Dragons into the 2012 ABL semifinals against San Miguel. Tied at 1 game apiece, the Dragons went into Manila with a good shot at defeating the Beermen. But Williams came down with stomach cramps during the game, came out and the Dragons didn’t have the firepower to compete with San Miguel. And now Williams has joined the Beermen.
Old New Face: Gabe Freeman joined the Philippine Patriots late in 2009 and terrorized the ABL, leading the Pats to the league’s inaugural title. Freeman wasn’t quite as effective in 2010, as the Pats fell to the Thailand Slammers in the championship. Out of the ABL last season, Freeman will team with Williams to give the Beermen a huge lift on the offensive end. Defense is an open issue.
While we’re here, its been awhile since I mentioned the San Miguel Beermen will meet the Indonesia Warriors on January 11th , live on ESPN at 8:00 PM Hong Kong time (Just in case you forgot…)
2012 Season Highlights and Lowlights: Started season with Donald Little at center, who led the league in blowing wide-open dunks… released Little and brought back Kyle Jeffers, who was a marked upgrade in the middle… Singaporeans Desmond Oh and Wong Wei Long improved dramatically over course of season… got little production from Vaughn Canta… Lou Graham could fill it up but turned the ball over nearly 4 times a game… in a statistical oddity, Slingers scored exactly 1,536 points and allowed exactly 1,536 points… Singapore Indoor Stadium has best sightlines of any ABL venue… Slingers do masterful job working with community groups to increase exposure in football-mad Singapore.
New Faces: The big addition here is Rashad Jones-Jennings. Jones-Jennings led the NCAAs in rebounding his senior year at Arkansas-Little Rock. His professional high point was being named the 2011 MVP of the Taiwan SBL, which is a tough league. Filipino Junjun Cabatu joins the Slingers from San Miguel. Cabatu has a nice stroke but saw limited action in 2012, so it will be interesting see how he holds up over the 22-game season.
Familiar Faces: Kyle Jeffers will again man the center spot. With the addition of rebounding ace Jones-Jennings, it appears the Slingers will be asking Jeffers to score more in the paint. The knock on Jeffers is he’s foul-prone, and the Slingers will need him to play 32-35 minutes to be successful. Fil-Am Don Dulay returns for his second season at the point. Dulay gave Singapore an average of 11 points and 4 assists in 2012, while knocking down 38 3-pointers.
2012 Season Highlights and Lowlights: 2010/2011 League Champions entered season with vastly new roster, along with new coach… nothing gelled and season fell into disarray… imports were shuttled in and out… mid-season coaching change did nothing to stop the rot… finished with a league-worst 5-16 record… passionate fans and a military marching band make Nimibutr Stadium a fascinating venue.
New Faces: Jellybean Bryant (yes, Black Mamba’s father) is the new Head Coach. Bryant joined the Bangkok Cobras last season in a rush; he had literally no time to get to know his players before the season started. Bryant has since spent an entire year in Thailand, coaching in a variety of capacities. He knows what he has to work with and will get maximum effort from the Slammers.
Froilan Baguion, who led the Slammers to the 2011 title, is back at the point guard spot. He is a steady hand who knows the ABL and will improve Thailand’s backcourt. Justin Howard, a mountain of a man at 2.08 metres (6’10”) and 127 kg (279 lbs), comes to the Slammers off a pro stint in Germany. He has plenty of experience in the rugged European leagues, so will bring a hard-nosed mentality to the Slammers. Michael Earl, like Coach Bryant, comes to the Slammers via the Cobras. Earl can score but his defense is questionable.
Familiar Faces: The Slammers are working overtime to develop their young Thai talent, so look for plenty of unfamiliar faces when the Slammers take the floor. Give Thailand credit for wanting to give their own an opportunity to compete with the region’s best. It's unlikely to translate into success in 2013, but the patient approach is the best approach.