We had an opportunity to have a sit down interview with the president of Malaysia Basketball Association (MABA), Dato’ Lua Choon Hann together with the committee members, Mr Boon Ang, Mr Ken Yap, Mr Sinheng Sim and Coach Lee Kheng Tian on the plans and goals for Malaysian basketball in 2018. As the answers came from various individuals on the committee, we will be crediting all answers to MABA.

ASEAN Sports: What are the immediate changes MABA is looking at for the Malaysian basketball scene in 2018?

MABA: Firstly, we need to give a background on the Malaysian basketball scene. There are 16 affiliate teams in Malaysia which are linked to the 14 states in Malaysia together with the Police (PDRM) and Armed Forces (ATM). We are looking to change some of the competition format of the National Championships from state based to club based. This is due to some states being less active and we want to allow private clubs to have direct access to partnership with MABA. This is because we want to implement a new system where the training, development and financial remunerations and even transfers for the players are handled by their respective clubs.

This is why the forming of the Malaysia Pro League (MPL) is important because the aim is to allow club teams to participate in high level competition games all year long instead of just 10 days of Agong Cup. This year’s Agong Cup will also be managed under the banner of MPL.

We will be asking all teams, may it be clubs or state affiliates to register themselves and their players through MPL so that we can formalize a proper transfer system as well if clubs wish to sign players amongst themselves.

AS: What will be the changes to Agong Cup this year?

MABA: We will be running the Division 2 Tournament earlier this year, one or two months before the Division 1 Tournament, and for the first time, we will be opening it up to club teams who meet certain criterias. The Division 2 Tournament will act as a qualifier for a few teams to qualify for the Division 1 Tournament later this year. The Division 1 Teams, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca, Sarawak, PDRM, the MABA Selection team and Pahang will be joined by the qualifiers from Division 2 for the final tournament.

AS: What are the plans for grassroot development this year?

MABA: We are looking to develop a stable High School League system in Malaysia. Right now, we are seeing a stagnation in the development at the grassroot levels with the current system. Each respective zones will haasdasdve their regional qualifiers and this will culminate in a one week national championship in June, subject to approval from the Ministry of Education. If approved, it will be held at MABA Stadium where we will broadcast the game live on national television as well, giving it a strong sense of pride and prestige for the players. The league will be open to all schools registered under the Ministry of Education, including private schools and international schools.

Another long-term goal would be for us to emulate the NFDP program for football in Malaysia where we set up training centers in certain regions across Malaysia that will provide training to top young prospects in that particular region all year round. Once we have 3-4 centers up and running we would start our NBDP (National Basketball Development Program) .This is crucial as they would provide competition with one another.

AS: What are the plans for MPL this year?

MABa: Firstly, we will be looking to hold a Development League this year from May to July roughly This league will be for Malaysian players only with a maximum of 2 national team players per team and a minimum of four players under the age of 23 on each team. The national team players are defined as the players shortlisted for the national team after last year’s Agong Cup.

The main league will be broken down into 2 conferences, first conference would run for 2 months with locals + local residences (any nationality with min 6 months stay in Malaysia) to play and the second conference would be 1 month with import players. This would be held somewhere between August – October. We target to have at least eight teams participating this year.

We will be working on improving our promotion and marketing to the public and would also like the clubs to take more ownership into the league to invest themselves into the league so that together the teams are part of the league’s business model, which is crucial to the long term operations.

AS: What are the goals for our national teams this year?

MABA: For our men’s team, the main tournament will be the Fiba Asia Cup Pre Qualifiers to be held in Bangkok in June. The goal is definitely be to qualify for the next round and we believe we have a strong chance at achieving that. Our U16 team will be participating at the Fiba Asia U16 Championship in China in April and we will be trying our best to qualify for the quarter finals. For the women’s team, the main tournament will the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April. Our aim is to qualify for the semi finals. On the 3X3 front, both our men and women’s team will be participating in the Asian Games in Jakarta in August and we hope to qualify for the semi finals. Our women’s team will also be participating at the 3X3 World Cup in the Philippines in June.

AS: How do you feel the Asean Basketball League contributes on a whole to the development of Malaysian basketball

MABA: We are always encouraged by how ABL helps to promote basketball in Malaysia we would love to see ABL run even longer in a year. It has helped improve and develop our local players but we don’t feel that it has been enough thus far. On hindsight, maybe we should have started encouraging the team to play with less imports earlier. We are now focusing on encouraging the team to give more minutes to the local players and we’ve seen through this past ABL season that when we give them more minutes, their confidence grows and we’ve seen outstanding performances from Kuek Tian Yuan, Ivan Yeo and Ting Chun Hong when they are trusted with more minutes to play. With this development, we believe that things will only get brighter for Malaysian basketball

(Note: This interview took place before the current ongoing Fiba Asia U16 Championship)