I had the opportunity to watch the two-time defending champion team from Song-Shan High School play in an exhibition game on Friday night. This was my first time seeing them play in person, as before I only watched them on the television. While the team I saw was made up of their reserves mostly, I still got a gI was impressed by two things most of all. Size. I knew Hu Long-Mao was a decent-sized young man, but there were three or four other players with good height on the team. Of course size is relative as none of them broke the 6’5” mark. I was also impressed with their man-to-man defense they are famous for playing. It is not often one sees a high school team play a legitimate pressure man-to-man out to 25 feet. It was fun to watch such a fundamentally sound team play at the high school level.
Chris Wang wrote an article this morning about the start of the University basketball league. It looks like National Taiwan Normal University is the favorite in the Men’s division. No surprise as it seems they are a feeder program to both the National Team and to the SBL.
The Super Basketball League will begin play on Christmas Day, and as such has officially announced the rosters for the upcoming season, including the import players currently under contract. It will be nice to have the basketball discussions turn from the rumors about some of the clubs’ interest in joining the CBA to what is actually happening on the court.
The import players announced this year are an interesting collection of players, but lack name recognition. Perhaps the most well-known player is Marcus Dove who started at Oklahoma State University a few years back. Since then he spent one year in Belgium and then played significant minutes for the NBDL’s Dakota Wizards last year. I have spent the day thinking about why the import players in the SBL are so obscure and have come up with the following thoughts.
1) Is it all about the Bejamins? The four import players with salary information listed on Taiwan Hoops are paid somewhere in the range of $6,000-$10,000 per month. This equates to $24,000-$40,000 for the season. This figure is consistent with last season as well. The salaries are between ½ of the regular salary in the Japanese bj league and ¼ of the salary in Korea or China. So naturally, the less money available the lower profile the players. The SBL currently pays the same as the ASEAN Basketball League. But this cannot be the only answer, as the players can make more money here (with much greater saving potential) than they can in the US minor leagues, and many of the lower divisions in Europe.
2) I think the timing of the league is a problem for recruiting the best talent from the US. The KBL, JBL, and bj-league all start their seasons in October, before the minor leagues in the US begin playing. As such, someone like Rod Benson will choose to take the better paycheck than spend another year in the minors with the hope of a call-up. Since the D-League is in full swing now the SBL is essentially looking for players who did not make the D-League roster, and who have not found a home in one of the lower division leagues in Europe or South America at this time.
3) The height restriction. Because the SBL limits imports to 200 cm (around 6’6”) teams try to get as close to that number as possible. Like most other leagues in Asia, the SBL is guard heavy so naturally teams look to fill the post position. Finding players that match this description is tough (think Chuck Hayes). I find it interesting though that the teams limit their sights like this, as Shawn Hawkins proved last year that a classic swingman can find a lot of success in the SBL.
4) In the end I think it all comes down to prestige. Playing in the 8-team “professional” league of an island with 21 million inhabitants is not seen as a forward step in a player’s career. Taiwan, and Taiwanese basketball, is literally stuck in the middle of the four power players in the region: China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. Each one of those countries has a bigger market, and thus greater exposure for their leagues. Taiwan has a lot of work to do to bring up the quality of the league so that they can compete with their neighbors.
Despite these somewhat negative thoughts running around in my head, like many other people here in Taiwan I am happy that basketball season is back. I can't wait to take my kids to a game.