Saturday, December 30, 2000

2001 A-League Regular Season Preview

2001 is a brand new year for Taiwanese A-League in a lot of ways. Most of all, participating teams skyrocketed to 16 due to the collapse of the pro league --CBA. A total of five pro teams will play in the upcoming A-League season, with Hong-fu Rams the only pro team not playing. (In fact, the team even doesn't exist right now.)

Without a doubt, pro teams will upgrade the overall competition level of this semi-pro league. Local fans who are left with no pro ball to cheer about will have a chance to embrace the different looks of a more competitive amateur basketball.

Following is our Top 10 preview.

#1:Dacin Construction
Dacin came from the perennial bottom team in the CBA to the top of the A-League, mostly because of the acquisition of SF Cheng Chih-lung(192cm, formerly of Hong-kuo) and C Chu Chi-shin(198cm, formerly of Hong-fu), two of the most celebrated players in Taiwanese basketball history.

At the age of 30, Cheng is still recognized as the top SG/SF in Asia. Although Cheng is not in game-shape since ending his contract with China's Shanghai Sharks back in April, it's believed he will be in top shape when the season begins. Powerfully-build Chu will be able to use his size and powerful moves to dominate the paint without the challenge from import players.

With the help from sweet-shooting guard Hsu Chih-chao(188cm) and gifted youngsters like PG O-Yang Jin-hen(190cm), PF Lee Fong-yun(198cm), C Ha Shiao-yuan(200cm), C/F Lo Chen-kun(197cm)and PG Huang Chih-chun(180cm), Dacin is the most-loaded team in the league. 31-year-old head coach Liu Chia-fa, who led Dahwa Construction to the A-League champion two years ago, will try to lead Dacin to its first-ever A-League title.

SINA, one of the most powerful dotcom companies in Asia, took over Hong-kuo's entire lineup when Hong-kuo's mother corporation decided to dismiss the team in November. Backed up by financially-stable, the team immediately becomes the highest-budgeted team in the league.

Registered as a new team, SINA will have to play in the qualification games although most of its players are battle-tested in the CBA. SINA will be led by PG Chou Jun-san(175cm), SG Lo Shin-liang(182cm), PF Huang Chun-hsiung(200cm), C Liu Yi-shiang(201cm) and SF Chiu Der-chi(190cm), all key members in Hong-kuo's three-peat run during 1995-98.

Obviously, experience will be the strongest area of this team. On the other hand, with most of the key players above age 30 and a weak bench, whether they can endure both the qualifications and the regular season games remains to be seen. Once they overcome the fatigue factor and make it to the playoffs, they will be the team everyone fears.

#3:Yulon Dinos
After winning the 2000 President Cup, it will be a little bit harder this time for traditional power Yulon to duplicate the feat once again. To beat SINA and Dacin, red-hot young star SG/SF Chen Hsin-an(193cm) will have to take the leading role and dominate.

Yulon has four NT members in its starting lineup, including Chen Hsin-an, SG Chiu Chi-yi(180cm), SF Chou Hong-yu(195cm) and C Wu Chi-wei(202cm), but the most impact player will be veteran PG Lin Jian-ping(170cm). Lin will be asked to direct both Yulon's structured half-court offense and occasional fastbreak.

Perimeter shooting will also be the key factor to determine how far this team will go. If their outside shots don't fall, it will be hard for Yulon to contend with their opponents.

#4:Bank of Taiwan
BOT is the team which suffers the most by the addition of pro teams. They would have dominated the league if pro teams did not drop back to the amateur ranks. BOT lost two key players in Chen Hsin-an(to Yulon) and PF Chu-Yong-hong(to 2-year military service), who will not be easy to replace.

Chou Ben-tan and Kao Jian-wei will be asked to fill in Chu's ENFORCER role, while SF Lin Yu-shu(193cm) will be the primary offensive weapon BOT counts on in all games. Meanwhile, 176cm PG Hsu Hao-chen showed he is a promising and vastly underrated playmaker last year, his first season in A-League. And he is only 18 years-old. Under the guidance of veteran coach Tien Shi-ho, a potential NT coach candidate, BOT will use its physical style to be the best they can be. And don't be surprised if they pull up some upsets against pro teams.

The military team is powered by two of the best combo guards in Taiwanese basketball: Yen Shin-shu(182cm) and Chen Chih-chun(182cm). Due to the height disadvantage(according to the military law here, those who are taller than 195cm won't have to serve the two-year military obligation), Military team plays a passing-game, open-court style. They don't have the size and height to advance to the finals but will scare a lot of people.

Military's interior defense will definitely improved because of the addition of physical speciman Chu Yong-hong(formerly of BOT), while Charles Barkley-type Hong Chan-chin(190cm, 100kg) and 190cm F Chen Jian-shun providing help. SG and SF position are overloaded with Yang Che-yi(190cm, formerly of Mars), PG Chun Wei-kuo and others.

#6:Jutai Technology
Winning the regular season champ two years ago under the name of Dahwa Construction, the team found itself a new sponsor and therefore changed the team name to Jutai Technology. They are the biggest loser of the bidding war, losing Chu Chih-chin to Dacin and Hsiung Jen-jen to SINA.

But never mind. The frontline of Shan Wei-fan(195cm), Lin Che-wei(197cm) and Tan Bo-chan(200cm) is still one of the best in the league. These three frontline players complement for each other. Shan's low-post spin move is what earned him league MVP two years ago. Lin is a tenacious defender, shot-blocker and a underrated scorer while Tan is a big body that fills the paint.

Newcomer PG Fan Gan-shiang, a junior NT member, is expected to be in the starting lineup right away. Hot-shooting SG Yang Yu-min(180cm) returned to his original team from Luckipar and is expected to be the primary scorer. Jutai will need to be consistent night in and night out if they want to get to the upper level.

#7:Luckipar Panthers
Once dubbed "Team of the next Decade", Luckipar is one of the most disappointing team in recent years. They have a hard-working coach in Jack Mai but lost too many players along the way. Yang Yu-min went back to Jutai, Chen Chih-chun went into the two-year military service. And it seems C/F Lai Kuo-hong(197cm) and F/C Lin Shin-hwa(199cm) had gradually lost the competitive fire during this past year. Luckipar is destined to be in the bottom-half of the top 10 teams.

Jack Mai has been trying to bring along youngsters like SG Chao Jia-chun(184cm), PG Hsu Tze-shin(176cm) and SG Chang Chih-feng(180cm). But these kids are not matured and experienced enough to carry a team. Besides, their backcourt is overcrowded with shorter guards. Taiwanese-American Matt Bryant(188cm, Christopher Newport Univ., formerly of Mars and Hong-fu in CBA years) will possibly play for Luckipar if the CTBA approves his nationality.

#8:BCC Mars
BCC held on to its promise to sponsor the Mars after month-long negotiation, although the team was determined to enter the season even without any financial sponsor. However, this is not the same team that took Hong-kuo to the seventh game in the 1998 CBA Finals. With the oldest roster in the league, BCC Mars is at best in the middle of the pack.

Losing floor general Yen Shin-shu to military service is Mars' biggest loss in the past year. 184cm PG Chen Huei came back after completing his military service but he is not in the caliber of Yen's. 184cm SG Lin Jia-huang is the only birght spot in Mars' backcourt.

Up front, Mars boast the oldest lineup in history, with Wang Li-bin(202cm), Song Tao(208cm), San Mao-sun(195cm) all over 33 years-old. Their stamina and quickness will be severely tested. Among youngsters, only 197cm Lee Chi-yi provides a glimpse of hope, though his Lin Jen-da(193cm) and Chen Tze-min(200cm) are not ready to step in yet.

#9:Taiwan Beers
Within the span of two years, Taiwan Beers dropped from its top-team status to the eighth place finish in the last President Cup. It's hard to blame the coaching staff or the players, because several big-name players either joined other A-League teams or signed by pro teams.Without better players, the tradition-rich Taiwan Beers could not make too much noise in the league.

Known as a team prefers open-court style of play, Taiwan Beers added yet another two one-on-one players, 193cm SF Sun Kuo-chan(formerly of Luckipar) and SG Chang Shian-min(184cm, formerly of Yulon) to its rosters. The team will still rely heavily on SG Lin Jia-shen's firepower on offense.

Head coach Zan Jia-shan will hang his hope on fearless 20-year-old Lin Chih-jay(190cm), an extraordinarily gifted and versatile player who came out of nowhere and shocked everyone during last Asian Junior Basketball Championship. Taiwan Beers' primary goal will be squeezing in the top six.

#10:Yitong Credit Agency
Advancing to the preliminary games will be viewed as a huge success for Yitong Credit Agency, a team without enough capable players to compete with stronger teams. Top scorer Huang Fu-shun will probably sit out the entire series because of surgery.

Culture University, Dayeh University, Tsaishin Alumni, Fushiang Hotel, Dongnan College, Rambo Jack(Taipei Physical Education College)

(Oscar Wu, one of the brightest basketball journalists here in Taiwan, contributed to this report.)

2001 A-League Primer

Taiwan's semi-pro A-League will tip-off its 2001 season on January 3, 2001. Following is the brief introduction on this year's competition format.

2001 A-League season will be consisted of two stages: the regular season, which to be played from January to March, and the President Cup, which will be held in the end of the year. No import players are allowed to play.

Bank of Taiwan, Yulon Dinos, Jutai Technology, Military Team, Yitong Credit Agency, Culture University, Dayeh University, Taiwan Beers, SINA, Tsaishin Alumni, Fushiang Hotel, Dongnan College, Luckipar Panthers, Dacin Construction, Rambo Jack(Taipei Physical Education College), BCC Mars

Kuo-tai Life, Chunghwa Telecomm, Taiwan Electricity, Tai-yuan Textile, Ya-dong, Nan-ya Plastics

Women: January 5 - January 19
Men: January 3 - March 2
Qualification Games: January 3 - January 15
Wildcard Games: January 16 - January 17
Preliminary Games: February 3 - February 14
Second Round Games: February 16 - February 20
Playoffs: February 22 - March 2

1. Six participating teams play a double-round robin schedule in preliminary games.

2. Top two teams advance to the best-of-three Finals. 3rd and 4th place teams play a best-of-three series for third-place.

1. Top 6 teams in last season automatically advance to preliminary games.

2. The other ten teams are bracketed into Group A & B, with each group playing a single-round robin qualification games. Top team from two groups advance to preliminary games.

3. 2nd and 3rd place teams from each group will then play a 4-team wildcard games. These four teams play a single-round robin series. Top two teams advance to preliminary games, filling out the last two spots on the 10-team preliminary games.

4. A total of 10 teams play a single-round robin preliminary games. Top 6 teams advance to the second-round.

5. The six teams play yet another single-round robin second -round games with top 4 advancing to the playoffs.

6. The four teams play a single-round robin semi-final games. Top two teams advance to the best-of-five Finals. 3rd and 4th place team play a best-of-three series for third place.

Friday, December 01, 2000

A Sad Story: The Rise and Fall of Taiwanese Pro Ball

After an eighteen-month wait, Taiwanese fans are disappointed again. The CBA (Chinese Basketball Alliance) failed to stage a new season, which was supposed to open on November 18, and announced it will once again suspend all activities indefinitely on November 23.

It is definitely a shocking news for the fans and the media. The announcement also means that there will be no professional basketball action in Taiwan in the foreseeable future.

Looking back the short 4 1/2-year CBA history, maybe we will have a better idea why the CBA, once perceived as one of the strongest pro league in Asia, folds twice within a two-year span.


PART I : The Beginning and the Rise


Summer of 1993, midway thru my final year in college, four A-League team owners gathered for a meeting and talked about the idea of setting up a professional basketball league. Little did anyone know back then that after this simple meeting, Taiwanese basketball would never be the same.

Looking back, the Taiwanese basketball environment was not-- and never -- MATURED enough to stage a pro league. Attendance of A-League games kept dropping back then and fan interest toward basketball was relatively low. Pro baseball is still the No.1 sports in this island.

However, Hong-kuo Elephants, Yulon Dinos, Luckipar Panthers and Tera Mars(later changed its name to Kaohsiung Mars and BCC Mars because of ownership change) escaped from the A-League and formed the Chinese Basketball Alliance anyway. The league set up the rules in a short time and held the import player tryout with the help from some sports agencies.

After a series of exhibition games, the CBA's inaugural season was launched in November 1994, a couple months after I went into the two-year military service. At the time, NBA basketball was huge in Taiwan but clearly few people here, especially those who involved in the CBA, understood what PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL really is. For the league staff, the teams and the local players, everything was more like an on-the-job training.


Surprisingly, the CBA received relatively success in the first two years, although the competition level, the venue, the marketing skills of the league was still second-grade. And because of the success, the league expanded to six teams in just its second season, adding Hong-fu Rams and Chung-shin Tigers(later changed its name to Dacin Tigers).

Averaged attendence was more than 2000. Local corporations, especially those related to sports business, were more than willing to be the league sponsors. And the fans were excited for and curious of Taiwan's first pro basketball league. Local medias expanded their coverage for basketball. Suddenly, Taiwanese basketball's future looked brighter than ever.

The most important thing was, by playing NBA rules, allowing two imports playing at the same time and paying acceptable salaries, the league was able to attract many big-time imports like former Louisville standout Jerome Harmon. Therefore, local players' skills were dramatically improved after playing against better-skilled imports every day.

With the great reputation of paying imports, plus the never-ending nightlife and extensive fan support, imports loved playing here, even willing to take less salaries. Gradually, the CBA was viewed as one of the most powerful pro leagues in Asia. Local stars not only became every youngster's idol, they also became richer after their salaries skyrocketed. Highest monthly salary reached 350,000 NT dollars(about 11,000 USD), almost ten times higher than an average A-League player.

PART II : Chaos and Suspension


The relative success of the league did raise some eyebrows throughout the Asia, but not all things went as smooth and well as outsiders thought. In fact, there are chaos everywhere from the league office down to the teams and the players.

Management guidelines, like salary cap, draft system, player trading rule and free agency rules...etc, were not completely established in the early years of the CBA, because owners wanted to open the season as early as possible. And league office did not complete the guidelines afterwards, thus resulting numerous controvercies among the teams.

Also, teams have mixed feeling toward import players. They want to have the best imports but are reluctant to pay high-end salaries. They want to bring in the best imports to win the ball games, but they don't want imports EATING UP all those playing times of local players.

Star-studded teams like Hong-kuo and Yulon started investing more money on player salaries, game promotions and courtside activities. As a result, their budget climbed up. On the other hand, due to poor facilities and the differences between top-tier and second-tier teams, attendence figures started to nosedive. Reportedly, every team lost money. And the TV rating of broadcasted games was not looking good.

Meanwhile, local player salaries kept skyrocketing, since every team wanted to lock up its players because not too many amateur players were available. The CTBA, which is the highest governing body of Taiwanese amateur basketball, did not put in any effort to strengthen amateur basketball. And for a long period of time, Taiwanese National Team did not produce good results in international competitions.

We have to admit that several locals, like Cheng Chih-lung and Lo Shin-liang of Hong-kuo, Yen Hsin-shu of BCC Mars, established themselves as franchise players during the years. But too many locals did not improve their skills thru the constant competition against imports, averaging double-figure in scoring is almost like an impossible dream for them. For the most part, this is why the league produced only a handful of star players. Practically, no emerging youngsters brought the fans any excitement and fresh feeling during this period. As a whole, this league was like a dead pond.


However chaotic it may be, Hong-kuo and Mars brought the fans an epic and classic battle in 1998 CBA Finals. Mars took a commanding 3-1 lead after four games, but Hong-kuo refused to lose. They won the last three games all on small margins, completed the most unbelievable come-from-behind victory in CBA playoffs history and became the first team to THREE-PEAT.

Every game in the seven-game series was a sell-out. The dramatical results also made this tiny island hoop-crazy for two weeks. No ones knew that, all of a sudden, everything goes downward from this point.

Starting in late 1998, numerous Taiwanese corporation suffered financial crisis like companies in other Asian countries. Kuo-yang Group, which owned the Mars at the time, sold the team because of financial problems and threw the first BOMB of CBA collapse. After that, Hong-fu also had problems, although it did not sell the Rams.

League office did not do well on the TV broadcast extension negotiation. During the negotiation, the league and ETV, the primary bidder for the broadcasting right, had numerous conflicts and could not agree a final contract. It's not a secret that if the league end up with no TV money, it will collapse in a split of second.

That's exactly what happened. On March 14, midway through its fifth season, CBA announced it will suspend its action indefinitely. In fact, rumors had been said the league would folds starting from January.

PART III : Re-structure and Falling Down Again


CBA's suspension is a huge blow to all the fans and the insiders of the basketball circle. The league immediately pushed itself into a re-structuring mode and claimed it will re-open as soon as all the problems are resolved. They pretty much GUARANTEED the re-launch but set no timetable.

League office and teams joined forces and formed a RE-STRUCTURE COMMITTEE, which includes coaches, owners, general managers and league staff. The main task for the committee is to lay down the foundation - various managing rules and guidelines -- that was absent before the suspension.

The committee also looked for the help from the highest sports governing body NSC (National Sports Council). It hopes the NSC can be the peacemaker between the owners who have different opinions and helps bring the league a new arena in downtown Taipei area.

Actually, NSC did not want to be involved in the restructuring of the CBA, although then-NSC president Chao Li-yun did try to organize a ROUNDTABLE MEETING. In the meantime, Dacin Tigers refused to participate in the re-structure and decided to drop back to the semi-pro A-League. Dacin had always been the lowest-budget team, the dropout showed it did not want to spend extra money on professional basketball.

That leaves the CBA with only five teams. Chen Cheng-chun, owner of Hong-fu Rams and a national legislator himself, then took over as the president of both the re-structuring committee and the CBA. Chen decided to speed up the restructring process.

During the suspension, the CBA organized several corporation-sponsored tournaments to keep the players and fans busy. Plus, they want to check out the basketball CLIMATE and maintain fans' interest in local pro basketball. Among the tournaments are Mellennium Series, Windy City Festival, Sinchu Cup and Elite Four Tournament.

Finally, the good news came on June 18, 2000. The CBA announced it will re-launch the 2000-01 season on November 17(Later changed to November 18) with each team playing 40 games. Also, then-ruling party KMT decided to take over the Mars, which is the only team without an owner. League office released the details of Balance Draft, Salary Cap, regular season and exhibition game schedules in later months.

It seemed everything was going well and the league was on its way back to the glory. Insiders didn't think so, though. Some said, the biggest problem of the league is not the lack of fan support or a new arena, it's in the mindset of the team owners and the players. To be more procise, owners still don't realize they will lose money in the first few years anyway. And Local players still don't have a clue what PROFESSIONAL PLAYER means. Almost 90% of the local players failed to keep themselves in shape and improve their skills during the suspension.


Like the CBA owners and players, economic situation did not improve much during the suspension. Two weeks before the tip-off of the new season, Hong-kuo Group shocked everybody and announced it will dismiss the Elephants because of financial difficulties.

One day after Hong-kuo's announcement, Yulon also announced it will pull out of the CBA and re-join the A-League. Suddenly, the CBA is left with only three teams and again in danger of losing the new season. President Chen tried to talk the owners out of pulling teams out but failed.

Bad news keep coming. Luckipar Panthers made clear on November 22 that it, too, will not play in the new season. President Chen was forced to announced that the relauch of the CBA is suspended indefinitely. The CBA is officially dead again.

Ironically, the fall out of the CBA pleased the CTBA. CBA teams were left without a league to play in, they can only re-enter the amateur ranks if they want to keep playing and thus make this year's A-League an 18-team league, an all-time high number.

Powerful Chinese website SINA.COM decided to take over the players from Hong-kuo and use the team name of "" to register in the A-League. Yulon, Luckipar and Mars will make minor roster changes but enter the A-League with the original team name. On the other hand, Hong-fu Rams became history. Most of its players joined other teams like Da-hwa Construction or Dacin Tigers.



The league decided to keep the league office (maybe hiring only one or two employees to handle all the little things) and keep working toward re-open the season after the Board of Directors meeting, although the season is dead again.

Most players stay with their former teams and are preparing for the A-League Regular Season, which starts next January. Other players either transfer to other teams or being force to find a REAL job.

While local media lamenting for the CBA's failure, the CTBA is pretty excited aout the upcoming A-League season and keep telling everyone that it's better for Taiwanese basketball at this moment not having a pro league. The CTBA has been feeling bittersweet about professional basketball ever since the CBA surfaced, because they think the pro league STEALS players from them and making amateur basketball miserable.

As far as the future of Taiwanese professional basketball, in my opinion, the first thing we must have is making more corporations believe that investing on a basketball team is worthwhile. Since basketball is the No.1 sports in Taiwan, it shouldn't be too hard.

Secondly, all team owners have to understand what it takes to manage a pro team and the reality of pro basketball. Any pro team can not expect itself to come in and immediately make money in the first few years. Current team owners can't stand losing money even for a single season! I guess that's not a healthy mindset in terms of running a pro team.

No.3. The CTBA should finally do something good for Taiwanese basketball. They have to work hard to develope grassroots basketball in junior high and senior high schools, develop more quality coaches who really have the love of the game and have the positive perspective of the game, and develop more players. All in all, they have to increase the talent pools for Taiwanese basketball. Pro and amateur basketball will be benefited.

Some observers are saying that Taiwan is better suited for the semi-pro basketball, like what it is in Japan. Japan's JBL is organized by Japan Basketball Association and very similar to Taiwan's A-League. They also play a short season, but they have two divisions and spend more money on player salaries and team management.

Meanwhile, some are saying that Taiwan simply have not enough quality players to have a pro league. They claim six teams are too many for this tiny island, and a 4-team league is boring because of familiar matchups.

Where is the future of Taiwanese pro basketball? It seems the answer is still up in the air and no one knows for sure. Before anyone figure it all out, Taiwanese basketball fans have only two choices: turn on the TV and watch NBA games, or put up with 40-minute not-so-exciting A-League basketball.