Right around this time last year, the Formosa Dreamers ended their debut ABL campaign with just one victory, nearly becoming the first ever winless team in the league’s history. Now, they sit atop the standings as the best team in the league.
Everyone loves a good comeback story right?
Maybe it’s because the experience of living vicariously through the glories of triumph is enjoyable to us all, or perhaps the hardships that accompany a rise from the ashes are something we can relate to through circumstance and human emotion.
On March 20, the Formosa Dreamers served up just that narrative by securing the league’s number one seed, guaranteeing home court advantage throughout the 2019 playoffs – a scenario it could only have dreamt of one year ago.
Given the circumstance in which it was accomplished, the achievement might not have wowed the masses. After all, it did come off an expected win against a struggling and depleted Wolf Warriors squad, one which has occupied the bottom of the league’s standings for the majority of the 2018-2019 season, and one which currently sits there with nothing to play for – exactly the position Formosa found itself in last season.
It might also not have been as perfect as the Dreamers would have wanted it to be, as it fell just shy of becoming the only team in league history with 20 regular season victories to its name after a surprising loss in Malaysia to the Dragons on Sunday.
But those who have supported the Taiwanese club from day one will surely treasure this feat. It hasn’t exactly been an easy journey to the top.
The Dreamers made plenty of mistakes in its debut season; underwhelming import choices that led to constant changes (six world imports and three heritage imports used), a lack of depth from the bench, inexperienced local players, sub-standard coaching (former coach Hsu Hao Cheng was previously coaching high school basketball), and a plethora of back-to-backs all contributed to a 1-19 record that tied for the lowest winning percentage in league history.
Some believed the Changchun-based team had either underrated the quality of the ABL or didn’t take the league seriously (Blackie Chen, one of the team’s owners, is a basketball player turned celebrity), while others claimed it was just having “rookie problems” in terms of operating a newly formed professional basketball club. Nevertheless, it was a forgettable five months for the Dreamers.
Local guard Wu Sung Wei was arguably the brightest spot from last season as he averaged 11.2 points per game on 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Re-signing him was only one of the many great decisions made by the team heading into its second year.
“It’s OK to make mistakes. That’s how we learn.”
– Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
During the process of learning from its mistakes, the Dreamers went through an overhaul in the offseason, starting with the signings of four national team veterans. Chen Hsiao Jung, Chen Shih Nien, Tien Lei and former CBA Finals MVP Lee Hsueh Lin were all brought onboard, and were later joined by Jeff Wu during the season.
The local additions had given the Dreamers commodities it desperately lacked: quality, depth, extra size, experience, and leadership, assets more often associated with foreign players. At the same time, they would act as complementary pieces to the team’s imports, luxuries which had proven to be integral for the ABL’s past two champions (Hong Kong Eastern in 2017 and Alab Pilipinas in 2018).
Tevin Glass brings hustle, athleticism, and versatility, and is quintessentially the squad’s “energy” guy, while Malcolm Miller has been giving ABL fans their own definition of “Miller time” with his hot shooting and clutch performances. Their big man, Will Artino, possesses great footwork, vision and basketball IQ.
This trio of world imports has accounted for the majority of just about every Dreamers statistical category and has produced on a consistent basis. However, this huge factor in the team’s overall success has surprisingly been overlooked.
When assessing a team like the Wolf Warriors, whose local players accounted for more than half of its points per game this season, the struggles that occurred were actually due to the team’s constant changing of imports, which resulted from poor import selections. Conversely, the three clubs that have not made an import change (Alab Pilipinas, Singapore Slingers, and Formosa Dreamers) are the league’s leaders.
In the solid selection of imports and maintaining great team chemistry among players as a contributor to the Formosa Dreamers’ success this season, credit must also be given to Dean Murray, the team’s head coach, who came to Taiwan following the departure of Coach Cheng, as well as team management for selecting the right man for the job.
Coach Murray’s experiences in elite leagues around Asia have undoubtedly played a big role in the team’s one year transformation. His impact can also be seen through player development, especially in the case of Kenneth Chien, who has shown improvements and has progressed in every aspect of his game.
Formosa has also been the beneficiary of a few favorable circumstances with the likes of new league rules concerning player eligibility (Kenneth Chien, a local this year, would have been considered a heritage import according to last year’s standards), the change in allotted world imports (three as opposed to two last season) and, perhaps to a lesser degree, the slew of injuries which have plagued the defending champions San Miguel Alab Pilipinas late in the season.
With all that being said, nothing can, nor should it be, taken away from the Dreamers organization, from team management, the coaching staff, and the players, to its large fanbase, which has not only played a big role in the team going 11-2 at home, but also in several away game victories thanks to the regionally adored Blackie.
Five out of the last eight number one seeds have won the ABL championship. In Chinese traditional culture, there is the belief that success requires three conditions: Tian Shi 天时 (right time), Di Li 地利 (right place) and Ren He 人和 (right people) and with all these elements acquired, the Formosa Dreamers certainly have all the reasons to believe they can win it all this postseason.
The playoffs start this Sunday, March 31st, for the squad from Taiwan, as they host the eighth-seeded Mono Vampire Basketball Club in the first round. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 pm at Changhua stadium.
Follow us on Twitter at @aseansports1.