A good night’s sleep is Leo Austria’s vital ingredient for coping with the rigors of travel and changing game conditions in the Asean Basketball League (ABL). The four-year-old league hops around the Southeast Asian region to entice this predominantly football crazy part of the world to get hooked on basketball.
Austria coaches the San Miguel Beermen and they have now strung together 12 wins for a 15-3 card and are bent on reaching the finals again this year. The Indonesia Warriors, defending champions and currently running second in the standings, will most likely crowd San Miguel for the title. But Austria does not count out Malaysia.
“I heard that these teams were formed with the intention of beating San Miguel,” explains Austria just before San Miguel took on the visiting Saigon Heat last Saturday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Austria inherited the team from the late Bobby Parks. The squad is a cut above the rest of the field in terms of talent. Former PBA regulars Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Leo Avenido, Val Acuña, Mac Baracael, RJ Rizada, Paolo Hubalde and upcoming star Chris Banchero carry the brunt for the Beermen along with imports Brian and Justin Williams.
Having a regular schedule and efficient systems for the Beermen and the Adamson Falcons allows Austria to coach both teams. He is not bound by a guideline like that of the PBA, where head coaches are prevented from steering a college program.
“Maayos naman ang sistema ng dalawang team. Once a week lang ang game sa ABL. Umaga ang practice ng Adamson at hapon naman ang San Miguel. (The systems for both teams are in order. ABL games are once a week. Adamson practices in the morning and San Miguel in the afternoon),” said Austria outside the Beermen’s locker room at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig before Saturday’s game against the visiting Heat.
Promoting basketball in the Philippines is never a problem since the game continues to be like a religion with new converts every day here. It’s the rest of the region that needs a traveling basketball show with international competition and NBA-like hoopla.
There are two areas the ABL could work on though to lure a bigger slice of the sports fans of the Asean region. First, there should be a more spirited search for homegrown talents in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. As of now it’s the imports and the Filipino guest players who play the bulk of the minutes. These were obviously instituted to neutralize the inherent strength of a Philippine squad. The Philippine Patriots took the inaugural title but the Thais and the Indonesians picked up the next two.
The rules seem to even out the field but fans cannot clearly identify with teams outside of the Philippines playing mostly with foreign stars. A stronger connection with the fans can only be forged if there are more locals playing for the teams. In the SEA Games and Seaba competitions, there have been a few shining stars from different countries challenging Philippine teams. Maybe in the future Asean teams can have only one American or foreign import and only one Filipino guest player.
Second, television should exert more effort to introduce the players. It’s not enough that games and the action are covered but a more vibrant presentation with player visuals and graphics could help the audience know the players better. The current broadcast team, Fox Sports, is one of the leading sports production teams in the US. Let’s hope more of its expertise can spill over to the ABL telecast despite maybe differences in production costs.
The ABL traveling show is a great concept but the game’s the thing and the product must be reviewed constantly to make it connect to the audience. It’s uplifting that a Philippine squad is leading the pack but San Miguel’s opponents need to also do a better job to stir interest in the league. No harm in trying to give Leo Austria something to ponder before he retires for the night.