Friday, December 09, 2005

SBL starts third season without top star Chen

SBL (Super Basketball League) marches into its third season on Saturday with perennial power Yulon sets sight on its third consecutive title. However, the league is missing top player Chen Hsin-an, who decided to sit out the 2005-06 season.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Chen Hsin-an left Yulon but failed to reach an agreement with ETSN, which agreed to make Chen the highest-paid athlete in Taiwan with a three-year, 15M contract earlier in the summer.

Chen and ETSN are still in the middle of a legal battle that sees no end. Chen said it's impossible for him to join ETSN after all this mess. And an unconfirmed speculation has been flying that Chen is possible to re-sign with Yulon next season once the legal problem is resolved.

Suddenly, Yulon is not the team it used to be. ETSN situation is even more interesting after losing BOTH Chen Hsin-an and Wu Dai-hao, who left the team and enroll at BYU-Hawaii, an NCAA Division-II school, to pursuit his dream of playing in North America.

With Chen and Wu, both National team starters, ETSN could've been right there with defending champion Yulon. They can even make Yulon an underdog. That all changed after the departure of Chen and Wu.

Losing Chen is not as devastating as people think, however, as Yulon is always a team that wins with great team play. Like last season, Lee Yu-kwang will be in charge of in-game substitution and most practice duties although veteran Chien Yi-fei is still listed as the head coach.

Starting center Tsun Wen-din improves by leaps and bounds during this past year and will replace Chen Hsin-an as the focal point in Yulon's defense and offense. Tsun's brilliant play in the Asian Championship obviously outshone Tien Lei, Wu Dai-hao and others.

Yulon grabbed last season's Rookie of the Year Lu Cheng-ju from YMY, formerly known as Sina. Lu should be able to make up the loss of Chen, at least partly, at small forward.

Keeping the core players intact will be the biggest strength for Yulon, which is still the team to beat in the eyes of most observers. It is a team that knows how to win.

Unlike past two seasons, it will be a scramble behind Yulon as no team stands out. But Dacin, who were swept in the finals by Yulon last season, will have the biggest chance of knocking down the Dinos.

Led by two-time SBL MVP Tien Lei, Dacin hopes two big men - second-year center Lin Hwan-chao (203cm) and rookie Kang Chao-hsiang (208cm) - can take some load off Tien in the paint. If Tien Lei gets his double-double every night and two youngsters can hold the paint, Dacin's frontline will be scary.

Dacin also added Su Yi-chieh, the best point guard coming out of high school, to complement Wang Chih-chun. Su will even be a starter if he learns quickly and plays well. His quickness and court vision will be a perfect fit for Dacin's motion offense.

Second-year small forward Lin Yi-huei will be a player to watch and is possible to have a breakout year.

Taiwan Beer is not far behind. Veteran coach Chiu Da-tsun, who coached Sina, Jiangsu and Xinjiang in China's CBA in the last three years, joined TB's coaching staff and took charge of most coaching duties although he is listed as an assistant under head coach Yen Jia-hwa.

TB's lineup is as complete as it can be. Lin Chih-jay and Ho Sho-jen form the most potent scoring 1-2 punch. Ha Hsiao-yuan will be a solid center if he can avoid foul trouble (Ha fouled out in 11 of 30 games last season).

The key will be in the hands of starting point guard Chen Shih-nian, who was seen as a future all-star coming out of high school but improved little in the last two years. Chen has to cut down his dribble and turnovers. Most of all, he needs to know that as a point guard, he has to pass first and shoot second.

Taiwan Beer is a team that thrives on emotion but sometimes plays out of control. Chiu Da-tsun will make sure TB plays "the right way".

Videoland underwent a big change as ex-head coach Chun Chi-mun was promoted to the technical councellor. The hidden fact is: he was axed. Former assistant Chou Hai-jun is the new head coach and should have no problem working with the same group of players. He will try to add the energy to this veteran team which preferred to play at a slower pace.

VL will be led by two NT players Yang Che-yi and Lee Chi-yi. With Lin Shin-hwa, Lai Kuo-hong and Huang Chun-hsiung on board, VL's inside attack will be a headache for every opponent.

But that's the same story as last season. Once again, VL will live and die by their outside shooting. It means the perimeter shooting of veteran Lin Jia-huang, yang Che-yi, Hu Yu-wei, Wu Cheng-yu, rookie Lai Kuei-lin and new arrival Hong Chi-chao can actually decide the fate of this team.

ETSN goes into the new season with a lineup that is so different from the back of their mind. They could've had Chen Hsin-an and Wu Dai-hao at SF and C. They could've been the odds-on favorite to win the title. But things didn't turn out that way.

Life goes on. Shooter Yang Yu-min will again take on the lead role of the Antelopes under the guidance of veteran point guard Chou Jun-san. Hong Yin-che and Wu Jun-hsiung will have to fill the void left by Wu Dai-hao.

Listed as a technical adviser last season, Lee Yun-hsiang is now the head coach. Lee is a young coach who knows how to manage egos and relates well to the players. Lee also knows how to teach his players to "play the simple way and gets the job done" and will use a lot of zone defense to mix with man-to-man.

Bank of Taiwan is another team going through lots of personnel changes. As the team with the fewest budget in the league, it is the way it has to be. Good BOT players are recruited by other teams easily. Chen Hsin-an, Ho Sho-jen and Hsu Hao-cheng all came from BOT, to name a few.

But this is a team that gives little-known players a stage to perform. That's why Hsu Shi-ching, Yua Ying-li and Chen Shun-hsiang came from ETSN and Dacin. And that's why BOT recruit rookie Lin Chih-lung, a 170cm Allen Iverson-type lefty who dominated the collegiate level but no one wanted.

If BOT improves its defense and gives up the idea of putting up a scoring derby with its opponents, it can pull off a couple upset wins even though it's quite a pull to challenge the playoffs.

Sina changed its team name to YMY in the last minute, selling the naming right to the on-line shopping network in order to bring in some sponsorship.

This is a team that almost closed business in the summer and came back to life. Most people wonder what direction this team is going. After all it dropped a lot of veterans along the way and started the rebuilding project that hasn't been successful thus far, evidenced by last season's 3-27 showing.

Lo Shin-liang and Liu Yi-hsiang are the remaining members from the old Sina days. They can both still be productive but obviously they are not in the team plan anymore. Their role will be gradually reduced, which is a doubtful decision to me.

Players to watch this season all came from the same high school - HBL powerhouse Tsai-shin HS - which includes point guard Hong Chih-shan, rookie Zuo Tsun-kai and Chien Jia-hong. If they receive the proper teaching from the coaching staff, YMY's future will be optimistic.