Carrying last season's tremendous success into this year, the 2004 Super Basketball League (SBL) season will kick off with the rematch of last season's championship finals between the Sina Lions and the Yulon Dinos on Saturday evening at the Taipei College of Physical Education Arena.
Part one of the two-part season preview will feature three of the seven clubs that will take part in this year's competition, with part two to follow later this week.
For those fans who followed the entire inaugural season last year, two of the seven squads in the league have found new homes in a couple of off-season ownership changes that changed the former BCC Mars into the Video Land Hunters and the former Jeoutai Elephants into the Eastern Television (ETTV) Antelopes.
Several key off-season acquisitions have made Taiwan Beer the clear preseason favorite as the beermen get set to improve upon last year's disappointing fifth-place finish. Adding to the lineup that includes the 2003 league scoring champ Lin "The Beast" Chih-jeh and assist leader Chen Shih-nian will be point guard Hsu Hao-cheng from Bank of Taiwan and seven-footer Ha Hsiao-yuan of the former Elephants that should make the beermen the club to beat in the upcoming season.
The healthy return of swingman Ho Sho-cheng, who can play tough inside the paint or pull back with his deadly outside shooting, should take off some of the scoring burden off Lin Chih-jeh as opposing teams will no longer be able to double-team, or even triple-team the beermen's sole scoring threat from last season.
Known for its speed and physical style of play down below, Bank of Taiwan will try to change its bottom-dwelling status this season with the addition of lefty center Cheng En-jeh and veterans Lee Chi-hsun and Hsu Chih-chiang of the former BCC Mars. Cheng En-jeh should complement muscleman Chu Yung-hung and power forward Yang Jing-ming nicely in reinforcing the bankers' physical presence inside the paint, while sharp-shooting Lee Chi-hsun provides some much-needed perimeter offense from his off-guard position for his new team.
Field general Wu Yung-ren will enjoy the benefit of having his former high-school mates Lee Chi-hsun and Wang Shin-kai on the team this season in directing the bankers' offense, as the former trio of San Ming Senior High School evolves into the backbone of the Bank of Taiwan lineup.
They (Bank of Taiwan) can compete with anyone in the league if they know how to take advantage of their great team speed. Long time Lion icon Huang Chuen-hsiung and fellow front-court mate Hsiung Ren-cheng will not only give the Video Land Hunters a boost on defense when they suit up in Hunters' uniforms this season in one of the most publicized off-season transactions, but also provide the young club with some veteran leadership that should improve the team's overall chemistry.
Huang and Hsiung will join the highest scoring offense in the league from a year ago that will no longer need to rely on outscoring their opponents every game, but rather, play the well-run, half-court offense that has made skipper Chung Chih-mong one of the top offensive minds in the game.
Utility man Yang Cheh-yi will really put his ability to adapt to test when he assumes the captain's role this season. Opposing teams will have a hard time matching up with the Hunters in their new guise if all goes as planned, because Yang is too big for a smaller guard to handle and too quick for a big man to cover.