The 2016/17 season of the ASEAN Basketball League kicked off with a rematch of last season's finals between the Singapore Slingers and Westports Malaysia Dragons, and it was the Singaporeans who walked away with their heads high this time.
Both teams had their rosters refreshed, and while the Slingers were visibly smaller in physique, the retainment of core players gave them an advantage over the Dragons, who struggled with on-court chemistry and the departure of long-time head coach Ariel Vanguardia.
Justin Howard (right) of the Singapore Slingers in action against Westports Malaysia Dragons during the ASEAN Basketball League at the OCBC Arena. Photo: Sport Singapore
Justin Howard led the home team with 22 points and seven rebounds, but Xavier Alexander and Leon Kwek were the catalysts. Alexander had 20 points and 11 boards and Kwek, who missed most of last season due to dengue fever, returned to add a career-high 20 points. Skylar Spencer contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds for the visitors.
Despite a stellar outing, Kwek was quick to defer credit to his teammates.
“I think that everything that happened to me was all about my teammates,” said the 19-year-old.
“They set me up for everything. They pass the ball to me. They have trust in me to handle the ball. So I think it’s not just about me. It’s about the team and… 19 more (games) to go.”
For the Slingers, new-face Alexander Austria was a bright spark in defense. While the Filipino tallied three steals in 13 minutes of play, Slingers head coach Neo Beng Siang was reserved with his comments.
“I didn't really play him a lot because he’s still struggling with our offence,” said Neo.
While acknowledging that Austria is looking to perform, Neo highlighted that the team is looking to him to “help run the offence and be more disciplined to get the team together than scoring”.
Justin Howard of the Singapore Slingers goes for a rebound against Westports Malaysia Dragons during the ASEAN Basketball League. Photo: Sport Singapore
Neo also admitted the Slingers’ weakness in the paint, but was hopeful that the team can work around it.
“I’m happy that it is a good start, but there are a lot of things that we can improve on because we’re not really playing as a team.”
The Slingers will head out of town for three games before coming back to the OCBC Arena on 18 December 2016 for their second home game against Alab Pilipinas.