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.)