Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taiwan NT targets a top six finish in Doha

Taiwan men's NT will challenge a top six finish in the Doha Asian Games after a long six-month training, Taiwan NT head coach Lee Yun-kwang said prior to the team's departure.

Lee said Taiwan will have a hard time beating China or Lebanon, which has brought back head coach Paul Coughter. These two games are probably the ones Taiwan has to give up. (Lee did not use the term "give up" but it's basically what he meant.)

Taiwan needs to win at least two out of three games vs. Japan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to finish in the top three in the second round group, so it can have a prefereable matchup in the single-elimination quarterfinals.

The bad news is that designated starters Lee Chi-yi and Lee Hsueh-lin still have not fully recovered from their injuries, which forces Lee Yun-kwang to replace Lee Hsueh-lin with either Chen Shih-nian or Wu Yong-jen in the point guard position.

Chen Hsin-an is also a probable option in replacing Lee as the point guard, local newspaper reported.

The probable starting lineup for Taiwan is Chen Hsin-an, Lin Chi-jay, Tien Lei, Tsun Wen-din and Chen Shih-nian/or Yang Che-yi.

The first two games (vs. Japan on Dec. 2 and Kazakhstan on Dec. 4) will be the most important ones for Taiwan. This means Taiwan has a very short period of time to adjust to the environment after arriving at Doha, and its injured players need to recover quickly before it's too late.

Taiwan is bracketed in the same group in the second round with China, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Japan. It need to finish in the top four to advance to the single-elimination quarterfinals.

It's not easy for Taiwan to beat Japan and Kazakhstan, in my opinion. Japan will be a different team from the past few years, when the team went through a youth movement under former head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic -- a Croatian. New head coach Kimikazu Suzuki brought back a couple veterans and will obviously rely on their experience a lot.

Led by 6-10 phenom Anton Ponomarev, Kazakhstan has been a surprising team in Asia in the last two years. Any team that underestimate the Kazakh will be in trouble as they are prolific from the three-point range and have vastly improved in the paint.

Taiwan needs to beat Japan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan not only for a better seed in the quarterfinal but also for boosting its self-confidence, which has been lacking in the past.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wu Dai-hao starts sophomore year at BYUH

Wu Dai-hao, who was named conference freshman of the year last year, started his sophomore year at BYU-Hawaii (Div-II) with a bang and led BYUH to a 4-0 record.

Wu had 22 points (6-8 FG, 10-12 FT), 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 blocks and 3 steals in the season opening game. He is averaging 11.8 points, 6.8 points, 3.5 assists and 2.8 blocks for the season, also shooting 61.6 percent from the field and 86.4 percent at the free-throw line.

The 6-9, 232-pounder spent last season mostly learning the American basketball and adjusting to the environment. As BYUH lost its key players to graduation, Wu is expected to play an even important role this season at the forward and center spot.

Plagued by foul troubles all season long last year, Wu will have to improve his defensive judgement this year as he has no problem scoring in Division II basketball.

Last season his minutes and role on the team suffered due to foul troubles. After starting the season as a starter, Wu mostly came off the bench during the second half of the last season.

Friday, November 24, 2006

06-07 SBL season to tipoff Jan. 6 next year

Local newspapers reported that the final tipoff date of the 2006-07 SBL season has been finally decided by the SBL committee. The new season will begin on January 6, 2007, after the Doha Asian Games.

It's probably unfathomable for folks that are unfamiliar with Taiwanese basketball to know that the tipoff date was not decided until 44 days before the new season, but it's not that shocking for those who have been watching Taiwanese ball.

Anyway, the marketing guys of SBL teams (if they have any...) and the main sponsors, broadcasting TV stations, and all those staffs will have a busy and hectic month.

Venue will be another concern for the league as the gym it has been using for the last three years -- the TPEC Gym(Taipei Physical Education Gymnaisum) -- is scheduled to be tear down and reconstructed at the same location in mid 2007.

Also because of the scheduling problem, the SBL games between mid March and mid April next year are forced to move away from Taipei city to Tainan, a southern city; Sinjhuang, a satellite city on the outskirts of Taipei; and Miaoli, a mountain town in middle Taiwan.

It's not that there is no qualified gyms in Taipei city to house SBL games. The Taipei Arena (capacity 14,000) and National Taiwan University Gym (capacity 6,000) are both state-of-the-art venues for basketball. However the SBL will have problem paying high rents, which makes it virtually impossible to play there.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The fourth year crisis

History repeats itself. From what we've seen so far, Taiwanese semi-pro (or pro basketball...whatever you want to call it...) basketball is facing the "fourth year crisis" again.

By saying this, I mean to tell you that the SBL is facing a potential downfall if it does not learn from the lessons of the defunct CBA (Chinese Basketball Alliance) -- the pro league that folded in 1999 after a brief 5-year existence.

It's always refreshing and exciting for basketball fans to see a new league, especially one that showcases enormous local talents and presents tough competition.

That was the case in 1994, when the CBA was established. And it was why it has had relative success, in terms of attendence, fan support and media attention, and afterward ignited a bidding war on broadcasting rights among local TV stations.

While all the ballclubs did was split the tens of thousands of dollars of the TV contract and nothing else, the league failed to improve on its marketing, facility, game operation and customer services. In addition, player salaries skyrocketed due to constant fighting between teams to get players.

In the end, the averaged attendence gradually went down. And teams were not profitable at all, so they asked for even higher broadcasting rights fee from TV partners.

Doesn't it look like what is happening right now with the SBL? The league gained some success after the first two to three years and the "greed factor" came out. The SBL committee did not lay out the plan for the next three years, did not improve the venue, did not discuss league regulations and system. All they wanted was more money from sponsors.

So what will happen? Will the SBL repeat the same mistake the CBA had seven years ago? Let's wait and see. From what I've seen, it's not optimistic.

Lo Shin-liang signs with Taiwan Beer

Min-sheng Daily reported that Lo Shin-liang, the No.3 scorer in the SBL last season with a 20.3 point average, has signed with Taiwan Beer. Lo failed to sign the contract extension with his former team YMY. At Taiwan Beer, he will reunite with his former Sina teammate Chou Jun-san, who was traded to TB from ETSN in the summer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thoughts before the Doha Asian Games

Taiwan NT needs to do well in Doha, concerning the uncertainty of the fourth SBL season and the fact that Taiwan has been out of top eight in Asia for so long.

Word from China was that Lebanon, which is in the same group with Taiwan and China, has pulled out of the Asian Games, although no report from Lebanon side was found to back up the rumor.

However, it's not a issue of Taiwan's concern. Taiwan NT needs to play its every game like its last no matter Lebanon is playing or not.

I have asked some friends to predict where Taiwan will finish in Doha. The common answer is between 5th- to 7th-place. It seems to me that no one is optimistic for a semifinal berth.

The fact is Taiwan not only can't keep up with China, South Korea and Lebanon, but also has a hard time to pull a win over West Asia and Gulf zone teams (Ex: Iran) and even Japan.

On the bright side, it's going to be the first time that three top players -- Chen Hsin-an, Tien Lei and Lin Chi-jay -- will play on the same team in a top-level Asian tournament. In the past Taiwan NT always entered major Asian tournaments with incomplete roster for whatever reason, as I mentioned previously. It will be exciting to see these three young men to play together and, hopefully, make things happen.

Personally, I think this is going to be the "final exam" for head coach Lee Yun-kwang, who has neither improved Taiwan's performance not improved players' individual game in his five-year tenure. Fans and media have been tired of all those excuses Lee and Taiwan NT had for poor performance: injuries, unfair bracket, unfair officiating...blahblahblah.

It's time for Lee and Taiwan NT to shut up and play. And I'm all for hring foreign coaches if Lee fails to bring home a better result.

Taiwan NT in Korea again

Taiwan NT is in Korea for its second training tour in the nation for the preparation of the Doha Asian Games. It is 4-0 on the tour so far with four more games to go. Its opponents are all Korea university teams. Taiwan NT seeked to warm up with Korea NT in the tour but did not succeed.

There are two more injured players -- guard Lee Hsueh-lin and Wu Yong-jen -- on Taiwan NT roster. Both are questionable for the Asian Games.

The team will come back to Taiwan on Nov. 18 and leave for Doha on Nov. 27. It will meet Japan in the first preliminary game on Dec. 2 in Doha.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The interesting case of Vita Genomics

Just like I wrote before, Taiwanese basketball never cease surprising us all. The latest case of Vita Genomics -- this year's A-League winner which wanted to get a foot in the SBL so badly -- was a perfect case.

First thing first. Vita Genomics lost all three games so far (I couldn't even find the result of its last game, but it didn't matter anyway) in the "qualification games", which was played from Nov. 6-11, and will not be able to join the SBL next season.

What is the qualification games? It was supposed to be a "relegation games" which have the A-League winner and the 6th- and 7th-place SBL teams to play a double round robin games with the last-placed team in the games demoted to the A-League next year.

However, ETSN and YMY -- the 6th- and 7th-place SBL teams last season -- refused to be demoted ! The very "considering" SBL Committee then decide to make it a qualification games, which means the games will be played to determine whether the A-League winner is qualified to join the SBL or not and no current SBL teams will be demoted.

Vita Genomics lost to YMY twice by the scores of 118-100 and 97-79, and lost to ETSN 99-78 in the series. The results showed the big competition gap between the amateur league and the semi-pro SBL.

Funny thing was that the committee never announced how Vita Genomics can join the league. Will it be able to join if it finshed the seires 4-0? 3-1? 2-2? 1-3? The answer is: nobody knows. Word was that no matter how Vita Genomics performed, it would take a negotiation with current SBL teams to determine the final outcome.

Which makes you wonder: why bother playing all those games if it takes another round of negotiation?

Another funny thing was that the Vita Genomics-ETSN game on Nov.8 was called off by the refs, according to the official FIBA rules, with less than two minutes remaining because there was only one Vita player on the court.

Vita, with many of its core players playing on the same night in the university league, could only dress seven players for the game. Some of Vita players were emergency loans from other A-League teams.

In the second half Vita lost two players for disqualifications and was forced to play the remaining five players. But they couldn't avoid foul trouble. With less than two minutes to go, the game was called off because Vita was left with only one player on the court.

Anyway, it seems to me that the SBL teams simply will not allow Vita enter the league unless it agrees to pay a large amount of admission fee. On the other hand, Vita needs to secure its players (and maybe find a team manager before that...) if it is serious about entering the SBL.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New SBL season still up in the air

Based on the last three years of the development of the SBL, the semi-pro league can be seen as relatively successful. The emergence of the star power and team competitiveness in Taiwanese basketball brought back fans’ attention as the infant league received more and more fan support and commercial success. However, as we approach the fourth SBL season, doubts arise.

The SBL Committee, the decision-making body of the league, reached an agreement Sep. 16 that the winner of A-League, which became the second division basketball after the SBL established, is qualified for a double round robin “relegation games.” The third-place team will be dropped to the A-League while the others stay (or be promoted) in the SBL.

Which means Vita Genomics, this year’s A-League winner, will compete with ETSN and YMY, which ranked 6th and 7th last season in the relegation games.

Problem is YMY claimed it lost five players and had another five in the U-20 NT training camp and refused to take part in the games. The committee then said the relegation games has been renamed to “qualification games”, which means if Vita Genomics ranks in the top two in the qualification games, it can be promoted to the SBL; ETSN and YMY will not be dropped no matter how they perform in the games.

Anyway, no one knows when the games will be played. No one knows that, if Vita Genomics does qualified for the promotion, when can it be promoted to the SBL – in 06-07 season or 07-08 season. Some team representatives also claimed Vita should pay an amount of right fee before it’s allowed to join the league.

The chaos didn’t end there. On Oct. 12 the Committee announced that ESPN Taiwan and Videoland were selected as joint partners for SBL’s broadcasting rights and marketing rights at a price tag of NT$ 56 million (US$ 1.7 million), up from last season’s NT$ 35 million.

The decision made clear that the Taipei Arena, which was owned by the mother group of ETSN Antelopes, had lost the marketing rights battle to Videoland, which also owns a SBL team, and ESPN Taiwan.

But the Taipei Arena refused to give up as it knew the league had problem finding venues to play in. The Taipei Physical Education College Gymnasium (TPEC Gym), the venue that housed SBL games for the last three years, is due to be reconstructed in June, 2007. The date is after the conclusion of the 2006-07 SBL season, but TPEC Gym also hosts university games in March and April 2007, which means the SBL will need to find an alternative venue during that time.

Until now, the SBL Committee has not announced its final decision yet. Will it stay with its original decision? Will it let the Taipei Arena re-enter as a bidder? Either way, it’s going to be an ugly battle all over again.

With the administration mess mentioned above, the opening date of the new season has not been decided. Previously the leagues announced that the 2006-07 SBL season will tip off on Dec. 31, 2006.

In player transaction news, former NT player Lo Shin-liang failed to reach agreement with YMY on contract extension and left the team. He is still unsigned.