Everyone loves a good comeback story. The Formosa Dreamers’ journey from the bottom of the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) in its debut season to the top of the standings in year two tell the tale of just how determined it was as a team, making fans and supporters proud. Good coaching, reliable imports and great chemistry made all of that possible.
More often than not, things just don’t go according to plan.
The Dreamers aren’t pursuing this upcoming season with its import trio of William Artino, Tevin Glass, and Malcolm Miller. The head coach that led them last year, Dean Murray, is gone. As if 2018-19 never happened, the ABL’s top-seeded team has found itself needing to start from scratch again.
During the offseason, the Dreamers added imports Domagoj Bubalo and Cullen Russo. The team was also able to land two key locals in Yang Chin-Min (Amigo Yang) and Chang Tsung-Hsien (Jet Chang).
Perhaps its biggest attention-drawing move came when it was announced that well-known tactician Kyle Julius, fresh off a relatively successful stint with the Saigon Heat, was to become the team’s new head coach.
Known for his grit-and-grind coaching philosophy, the Canadian head coach led the Heat to two postseason appearances during his tenure with the team. In year one under Julius, the Vietnam-based team experienced its first non-losing campaign after finishing the regular season with 10 wins and 10 losses. In year two, Saigon won its first playoff game in team history when it took the second game of its quarterfinals series matchup against eventual champions the BTN CLS Knights.
Under Julius’ pinpoint coaching, ABL rookies such as Chris Dierker, Corey Cilia, Khoa Tran, and Justin Young, players who made the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) look like their local recreational league, thrived after making the jump to the much more competitive regional league.
Some fans may jump to conclusions, judging Julius’ coaching ability based off his 53 percent regular season winning percentage during his time with the Heat. But opposing teams who have played against his, especially inside of CIS Arena, know just how tough and resilient his squads were night-in and night-out.
It’s his coaching philosophy that turns those under him into fighters; fighters who will give everything they have as they go to war for him.
Coming to a new city, to take over the reins of a new team with few established players is a tall-task for any coach, and Julius is no exception.
“It’s really hard to take a brand new group of guys,” Julius admits. “I did it the first year in Vietnam, and the second year, and this is the third year I have to introduce myself, [my] philosophy, [and] system.”
But a key element which can differentiate the winners from the rest is adaptability. Under tough circumstances, winners are able to adapt to new norms and look for ways to excel in them.
Dreamers veterans like Tien Lei, Yang, and Lee Hsueh-Lin already have skillsets which have matured through battles they’ve gone through in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), luxuries that the 40-year-old Julius did not have in Saigon. But at the same time, it will be a challenge for him to try and change the way they play in order to suit his system.
So he adapts to it.
After a few weeks of intensive practice, the Dreamers participated in the Hualien International Invitational, a tournament which featured ABL opponents Mono Vampire Basketball Club and Westports Malaysia Dragons. The platform offered an opportunity for the defending champion to experiment its current lineup under the former National Basketball League (NBL) Canada coach of the year.
“IT JUST TAKES TIME. ONE OF THE THINGS I DECIDED WAS ADJUSTING MY SCHEME MORE TO THE VETS THAN THEM ADJUSTING TO MINE. I THINK WE’VE DONE A GOOD JOB SO FAR.”
However, a lack of chemistry amongst the team cost it the tournament, and the Dreamers finished in seventh place among nine participating teams. Its players didn’t seem to gel together well in comparison to the previous ABL season, and shortly after, Julius made the decision to cut ties with two of his imports, while signing former Singapore Slingers import guard Jerran Young.
The signing of an explosive guard like Young should make sense for those who have been following the ABL since the 2016-17 season. Backcourt players with athleticism, who can shoot and defend, thrive in Julius’ system.
“Jerran is great,” Julius says. “He will fit anybody’s system. Very, very talented who can play 1-4 for me.”
In addition to a talented guard, big men who possess shooting ability and defensive versatility also suit the Canadian’s preferred style of play, and is next on his wish list of players.
“We’re gonna go for size for sure,” Julius shares concerning his requirements for the team’s second import signing. “A five that can shoot fits best with what I do. My offense will flow well.”
Given the current lineup, Yang, Chang, Lee, Young, Chen Shih Nien, and Kenneth Chien are all options for filling the team’s two guard positions. In particular, Lee, Chen, and Chien have all shown their capabilities during the course of the previous season, whereas Yang and Chang have shown flashes in pocket tournaments.
Yet, Julius demands more than just experience or flashes from his floor general. When he was named the Heat’s new head coach in 2017, he brought in Akeem Scott, a point guard who helped him and the London Lightning claim a championship in NBL Canada. It was Scott’s energy and passion which elevated his teammates, and his leadership and fearlessness to go up against bigger, tougher opponents which set the tone for the team.
“I have no idea who is gonna start, who is going to be my point guard,” Julius says in all seriousness. “I just don’t. It’s [still] early.”
Furthermore, he also stresses that nobody on the team has a guaranteed spot in his backcourt as of yet, including proven veterans: “For me, including the older guys, nobody has earned the right to say they are the starting point guard or two [guard] yet. [You have to] show me how bad you want it.”
The message is clear. The challenge, sent.
“NOBODY HAS OWNed THE JOB YET. IT’S UP FOR GRABS.”
As if the competition for regional supremacy wasn’t already difficult enough, when from 2017-19, it was the only team hailing out of Taiwan, the Dreamers now have a new foe and rivalry brewing from within the country’s borders. The entry of the Taipei Fubon Braves into the ABL for the upcoming season has already pitted the two clubs against each other, as they battle for local player signings and fans.
In fact, the league’s newest team also seems to be its hottest in terms of headlines, with media and fans alike waiting in anticipation for how the Braves will fare with a roster that includes ex-Chinese-Taipei National Team captain “The Beast” Lin Chih-Chieh, high IQ big man Tseng-Wen-Ting, Linsanity-tied Joseph Lin, and 2008 NBA Draft third overall pick OJ Mayo.
With the hype surrounding the Braves’ already-established lineup, the team is looking to make noise in its first ABL season and Taiwanese fans are already looking forward to seeing the battles between their country’s two representatives.
But for Julius, he couldn’t care less about what’s happening outside of Formosa, and is unaffected by the buzz coming out of Taipei. Instead, he is solely focused on his new team.
“I’M GONNA BE HONEST AND TELL YOU I NEVER PAY ANY ATTENTION TO FUBON, OTHER THAN I KNOW WE WILL PLAY THEM FOUR TIMES.”
“When it’s time to start evaluating them, I will,” the former Canadian national team player firmly says. “All my energy is going towards my team now. Like I said, I have done more adjusting to my system for this group than I ever have. That’s where all my energy and time has gone.”
Success in a professional sports league doesn’t come easy. The Dreamers’ management knows it. Julius knows it. But it’s Julius’ determination, concentration, and dedication which makes him the ideal mastermind to coach this Dreamers team.
With potentially just two imports, five experienced veterans, and a handful of hungry youngsters having to go through the process of integrating into a whole new system, flashbacks to the Dreamers’ growing pains in its debut ABL season are to be expected.
However, with Julius’ coaching pedigree, fans should have enough reason to remain patient with the team in the upcoming season.
The Formosa Dreamers are set to start its 2019-20 ABL campaign on the road against Mono Vampire November 23rd.
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