Wednesday, February 06, 2008

CNA: Taiwan basketball league looks ahead to second half

(Source: ESPN Taiwan)

Taipei, Feb. 5 (CNA) After a first half of the season full of good and not-so-good surprises, Taiwan’s domestic basketball league SBL (Super Basketball League) is looking forward to a prosperous second half on the eve of a two-week lunar new year break.

The semi-pro league, which is in the middle of its fifth season, consists of seven teams and adopts a 30-game regular season format. The regular season will be suspended briefly before resuming Feb. 15 after a two-week break for the new year.

Before the 2007-08 season opened last December, the league was expected to be top heavy as perennial power Yulon Dinos, defending champion Taiwan Beer and Dacin Tigers were all loaded with talented players while the remaining team were either inexperienced or under-budgeted to compete with the big boys.

The prediction is partially true as Yulon, which won three titles in the SBL's first four years, is currently leading the league at 16 wins and 4 losses. Taiwan Beer is not far behind at 15-6.

What surprised everyone was that Dacin is barely clinging on to its fourth place ranking with a sub-.500 record of nine wins and 11 losses. Dmedia Numen, which hires the only foreign player in the league, became a dark horse with a third-place 13-7 record.

Pure Youth Construction Corp., a bottom dweller during the previous four seasons, was another surprise at 9-12. The young team is making a strong push to the top four with the momentum of a five-game winning streak under the guidance of young head coach Hsu Chin-che.

Yulon forward Chen Hsin-an, the first Taiwanese player to play in the U.S. NBA team training camp in 2002, regained his top form and is leading the league in scoring with a 20.6 points per game to go with 8.8 rebounds. Dmedia import Jonathan Sanders has been dominating at both ends of the court, averaging 19.2 points, 16.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.

Sanders was not alone. Ouyang Ching-hen, a 28-year-old Dmedia guard, is enjoying a breakout season as the league's third best scorer with an 18.7 scoring average.

However, the image of the league has been taking hits from numerous incidents on and off the court. Two on-court brawls have led to a number of player suspensions. Taiwan Beer head coach Yen Chia-hua and the team manager Lin Chieh-ho are in the middle of a 10-game suspension as well. Both were reprimanded as Yen kicked a referee and Lin punched another after a controversial game.

Three Demdia players were released from the team after being involved in a stabbing incident outside a Taipei nightclub last month.

The SBL, the brainchild of the Sports Affairs Council and the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association, in hope of reviving local basketball, was established in 2003, four years after the professional league Chinese Basketball Alliance (CBA) folded.