Eastern will become the first basketball team from Hong Kong in almost 20 years to take part in a regional club competition as they kick off their Asean Basketball League (ABL) campaign later this month.
With the help of four foreign players, the domestic A1 Division runners-up of last season will rub shoulders against five leading sides of the region on a home-and-way basis in the league, which features 20 matches in the regular season.
“It has been a long time since a Hong Kong club take part in a regional competition and will be a great opportunity to showcase our basketball again to our fellow Asian counterparts,” said Choi Fong-yue, Eastern assistant team manager, who played with Regal, the last club to represent Hong Kong in continental competition, the ABC Champions Cup in 1998.
“We have put up a strong force led by a foreign coach and four overseas players and our target is to reach the final. It is going to be difficult to predict the results as this is our debut season but nonetheless Eastern have taken the first step and hopefully more local clubs will join us in future.”
Regal were once a dominant side in regional basketball, lifting the 1997 ABC Champions Cup and finishing runners-up the following season before pulling out of domestic basketball.
The ABL is by invitation with six top teams in the region. Four teams will qualify for the play-offs. The five others are Singapore Slingers, Kaohsiung Truth, Alab Pilipinas, Saigon Heat and Westports Malaysia Dragons.
Eastern kick off the season with an away match to Kaohsiung Truth on November 27 before hosting the Taiwan side at Southorn Stadium on December 1.
Each team will meet the same opponent four times – twice home and twice away. The play-offs start in April.
Eastern are still the only professional side in Hong Kong and executive director Peter Leung Shou-chi said they would need to expand their budget to HK$1 million a month after joining the regional competition.
“We have the support of a major sponsor to provide the budget but more importantly we are playing for the name of Hong Kong basketball,” said Leung.
“The new coach has vast experience including coaching in the mainland for the National Basketball League club. His arrival can help the players, especially our local players to have more baptism of professional basketball.”
Coach Eduard Torres, from Barcelona, won the AEEB Coach of the Year Award in 2002 after leading his club Plus Pujol Lleida to the LEB champions – the second tier league in Spain.
The 52-year-old will have four foreign players under his charge: point guards Tyler Lamb and Steven Guinchard come under the Asian foreign player category with Thailand and Taiwan origin respectively. The two others are American Marcus Elliott and Ryan Moss from Bahamas. Two Asian foreigners and two foreigners are allowed.
Captain Lee Ki welcomed the competition in the team. “We need to raise our standard to compete for a place in the regional event and this will definitely help improve the standard of Hong Kong players,” said Lee.
“This is my second year as a professional player and the opportunity of playing in the ABL will definitely help.”