Following in the wake of a tumultuous offseason that included the dmedia Numen? ownership change, the absence of a broadcast carrier and the lack of a legitimate home court in Taipei, the 2009 Super Basketball League (SBL) season will open this Saturday with a rematch of last season? championship final between the defending champs, Taiwan Beer, and the 訃unners-up, the Yulon Dinos, at the Miaoli County Sports Complex.
For those not too familiar with Taiwan? semi-professional basketball league, it is made up of seven teams: three-time champs the Dinos, crowd favorite and defending champs Taiwan Beer, the Dacin Tigers, the Taiwan Mobile Leopards, Pure Youth Construction, Bank of Taiwan and the newly acquired Kinmen Liquor (formerly the dmedia Numen).
What was once considered a bright outlook following five solid seasons of play has muddled through to a questionable start this year that had many worried about whether scheduled play would even begin on time.
Headlining a wave of negative publicity was the ownership change that turned the Numen into Kinmen Liquor after dmedia became embroiled in a game-fixing scandal that led to the dismantlement of its professional baseball affiliate, the dmedia T-Rex, last October.
Further complicating the problem was the reluctance of local sports broadcasters ESPN and Videoland Sports to keep sharing the broadcast rights this season, not to mention a reduction of almost 75 percent in the broadcast fees paid to the league ?from NT$56 million (US$1.7 million) last year to a proposed NT$14 million to NT$15 million this year. Apart from blaming the recent global economic downturn, officials involved in the deal refused to discuss the reasons behind such a huge reduction.
Finally, there is the issue of the SBL not having a real ?ome court?this season because neither the Taipei Physical Education College Gymnasium nor the Taipei County Sports Complex is available this year as a result of reconstruction and scheduling problems. The Taipei Dome is also out of the question because of cost and scheduling conflicts.
This leaves the league hosting most of its games this season at Miaoli and Hsinchu, until May? postseason play at the Taipei City Arena.
Aside from the off-court upheaval, all seven squads have been preparing hard for the upcoming season, with friendly matches taking place as early as last month.
While Taiwan Beer are clearly the preseason favorite to defend their title, with all five of their starters returning from last year, the Dinos should pose a serious threat to the beer crew, with top forward Chen ?irman?Hsin-an and healthy center Tseng Wen-ding heading a potent lineup.
Lurking not far behind the Dinos will be a tough Dacin club that has acquired the services of US veteran forward Byron Allen, who should provide the inside presence that the Tigers have missed over the past few seasons to complement the three-point attack in the Dacin perimeter game.
Also opting for foreign help this season are the Leopards, who picked up Mario Boggan of the US along with scoring threat Ouyang Jing-hen (from Kinmen Liquor) to lead a fairly experienced squad under the direction of Cheng Chih-long.
Looking to build on their success from last year will be a young Pure Youth team that made it into postseason play, with center Jien Jia-hong championing a quick and agile fivesome that can run the ball up and down the court all day long.