One or two teams from the Pacific Islands could potentially be joining the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) in 2019.
A source close to the situation informed ASEAN Sports that there are currently two serious candidates from the Pacific, one of which is the reigning New Zealand National Basketball League (NZBL) champions, the Wellington Saints, who have communicated their intention to join the Southeast Asian league.
The Saints, led by several New Zealand national team members, completely took over the NZBL this past season, marching into the final unscathed to win the title with a perfect 20-0 season.
Australian Boomer Nick Kay was named the regular season MVP, while Tall Black mainstay Tom Abercrombie took home the Finals MVP award after they won the grand final against the Hawke’s Bay Hawks.
Basketball fans from the Philippines may remember the Saints from their 2015 visit to Manila, when the team participated and finished in second place against the Gilas Pilipinas national team in the MVP Invitational Cup.
While the ABL season (November-May) runs a different calendar from the NZBL (April-July), and there is expected to be minimal scheduling conflict, it is unclear what the makeup of the Saints’ roster would be if they were to join the ASEAN league as most of the standout Kiwis also regularly play in the Australian NBL which runs from October to March. Regardless, the New Zealand club can be expected to be a force to be reckoned with.
However, logistics can pose as one of the major hurdles. Wellington, located at the south-western tip of New Zealand’s North Island, is a 12-15 hour travel from most of Southeast Asia.
On the other hand, another Pacific Island squad also wants in on ABL action. Despite not being a pro ball club, Guam’s National Basketball Team is also reportedly in the running to join Asia’s first regional professional basketball league.
The U.S. Island Territory swept through its competition with a perfect record of six-straight wins when they participated at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Eastern Region Pre-Qualifiers in Thailand last December, barreling through its counterparts from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Macau.
Currently 77th in the FIBA World Rankings, Guam has proven that they are a legitimate threat to teams from this region. The Western Pacific island is also considerably closer to Southeast Asia than New Zealand, so there would be less of an issue logistics-wise if this does indeed push through.
Recently, Taiwan’s champion team, the Fubon Braves, announced their official entry into the ABL after leaving the Super Basketball League (SBL), joining last year’s top regular season team, the Formosa Dreamers, as the second active ABL team from Chinese Taipei.
With the CLS Knights Indonesia declining to defend their ABL title and seemingly on their way out of the league, the addition of these potential championship contending teams would more than make up for their absence.
With just about three months to go before the upcoming season opens, the league is expected to make an official decision in the coming weeks. We will continue to report updates as they are made available.
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