Taipei, Jan. 7 (CNA) Taiwan's semi-professional basketball league will open its new season Sunday in the central city of Miaoli, looking to retain fans' interest in the absence of several big-name players who have opted to play in China.
The Super Basketball League (SBL) , Taiwan's top basketball grouping, will begin its 2010 season with hopes of minimizing the negative impact of losing five players to the Chinese league across the Taiwan Strait, among whom are Chen Hsin-an and Lin Chih-chieh, who were two of the league's most popular players.
"The league will suffer if we keep losing top players to China. Hopefully our government and the basketball authorities can do something about it, " said Taiwan Beer forward Ho Shou-cheng in a pre-season press conference.
In order to fill the starless void, the league decided to allow all seven teams to hire import players this year to improve the competition. In the past, only three non-playoff teams were allowed to sign foreigners.
More foreigners means a bigger challenge, said Byron Allen, a 200cm forward/center whose stellar play helped Dacin Tigers beat Taiwan Beer four games to three in a thrilling best-of-seven championship series last year.
"It will be a fun year. Let's see, " Allen said, adding that he feels Dacin players have been more focused this year and have shown great determination to defend their title.
The absence of Chen and Lin and the hiring of more imports has also created parity in the league, which is not necessarily a bad thing, said Wang Jen-da, president of the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association (CTBA), Taiwan's basketball governing body.
"The suspense of not knowing the winner until the last minute... that is the beauty of sports, " said Wang, who is also Dacin's owner.
Yulon and Taiwan Beer have been dominating the league, which was established in 2003 with seven teams, with Yulon winning the first three titles from 2004-2006 and Taiwan Beer following with a repeat.
While the league receives moderate attention among high school students, the SBL always trails the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) , Taiwan's top baseball competition, in terms of fan support, averaging slightly more than 1,000 spectators per game.
Lack of quality venues in the downtown Taipei area forces the league to move its games around the island. The 105-game regular season this year will be played in Miaoli, Hsinchu, Yilan, Xinjuang and Taipei City before staging the entire playoff series in Xinjuang.
The regular season games will be played every Friday, Saturday and Sunday with top four teams advancing to the crossover best-of-five semifinal round. The 2010 SBL champion will be crowned in mid-May after a best-of-seven championship series.