Source : Dante Navarro (The Philippine Star)
JAKARTA – The AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League takes flight in January 2012 for its third season with a promise of a bigger, tougher competition with the entry of three new teams, including one from Season I champion the Philippines.
San Miguel Corp., the region’s leading food conglomerate which has a long championship tradition in both the amateur and pro leagues back home, joins the fledgling league as it fields in a team tipped to contend for the crown on its very try.
“We are honored to be in the ABL. We have a tradition of basketball in the Philippines for 40 years,” said Noli Eala, sports director of San Miguel Corp. during the launch of the event at Hotel Mulia here. “The ABL is a terrific platform not only for our international brand but also our sports program.”
Not to be outdone, Thailand, whose Slammers slammed the Phl Patriots’ back-to-back title bid at the latter’s turf in Season 2, also puts in a new squad in the Bangkok Basketball Holdings, giving Thailand’s rivalry with the Philippines a different kind of look.
Vietnam is joining the league for the first time, its Saigon Sports Academy Basketball team bringing to eight the squads vying for the third season kicking off Jan. 14, 2012. The other teams are the defending champion Chang Thailand Slammers, Westsports KL Dragons from Malaysia, Singapore Slingers and the Indonesia Warriors, formerly SatriaMuda Britama.
The Brunei Barracudas took a leave of absence for Season 3, slated to be played over six months.
“The inclusion of an established team like San Miguel from the Philippines and the new teams from Vietnam and Thailand show that the ABL is now turning into a regional gladiator ring for basketball with both giants of the game and the new boys with big ambitions now signing up to fight for the right to be the best in the region,” said Kuhan Foo, CEO of the ABL.
“The ABL has grown leaps and bounds not only in terms of regional basketball but also in the world, since games can be seen on ESPN,” said Mikee Romero, owner of the Patriots and CEO of Harbour Centre.
He also welcomed the entry of San Miguel and their projected rivalry, saying: “There will be on-court rivalry, for sure, but off-court we are one. Rivalry only brings excitement in the ASEAN basketball.”
Romero said a complete revamp of the team is in the works with the Harbour Centre owner vowing to put up a “much better squad” after their debacle in Season 2. He hinted at tapping former Gilas member and FEU stalwart Aldrech Ramos and former Singapore Slingers’ ace
playmaker Al Vergara.
He, however, confirmed negotiations to renew Louie Alas’ contract as coach of the team. San Miguel coach Bobby Parks, for his part, said the team will be built around former Patriots Jun Jun Cabatu and Benedict Fernandez while eyeing JR Cawaling, also of FEU, to backstop the team which Eala described as a fighting team.
“We hope to be as competitive as we have been the last 40 years and we have to be since we will be up against the top teams in the region,” said Eala.
Giving a boost to the league, formed in late 2009 to kick start a pro league among top corporations in the region and at the same time help develop the sport in Southeast Asia, is the entry of AirAsia as the league’s title sponsor.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to see our efforts in creating an Asean league that would help grow the development of the sport now taking flight with more competitive teams signing up to battle for the honor of being the best in Southeast Asia,” said Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of AirAsia and founder of the ABL.
“I am proud of ABL’s upcoming season. It has proved the ability to expand a great deal with the addition of a SEABA member, Vietnam,” said Erick Thohir, president of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA). “From six teams, we are now a league of eight. I hope the ABL will become more competitive in the future and will be able to improve the national team’s performance in order to compete in FIBA Asia, facing the Middle East and East Asia countries.”
The format of the first two seasons will be retained with triple home and away games for the league stages with a best of three series for the playoffs, including the finals. The champion will again represent the region in the 2012 FIBA Asia Champions Cup.