By Ian Chew
No team can remain unbeaten indefinitely and so it was that the Singapore Slingers finally lost their first game 70-53 to the Philippine Patriots last weekend in Manila.
Yet a defeat can sometimes be instructive. If anything, it can provide a springboard for going to the next level.
Missing the services of Wong Wei Long due to chicken pox, and to a lesser extent Al Vergara, in the match against the Patriots, the Slingers slumped to an early 8-22 first quarter deficit and never recovered.
Unfamiliar in the point guard positions, first Slinger Marcus Ng and then Michael Wong tried to fill the gaps but were unable to execute the plays designed for the team. Slinger head coach Frank Arsego had to forego his original game plan and risk a less than hundred per cent fit Al Vergara before some semblance of normality returned to the Slingers play.
The game, however, was as good as over by that time with the Patriots holding on to an unassailable lead.
Looking at his bench, Arsego must have been hard pressed to find a spark for an implausible revival. Local centre Pathman Matialakan came off for four points while guard Hong Wei Jian added four rebounds.
In contrast, the Patriots had Robert Wainwright and Elmer Espiritu come off the bench for eight and seven points respectively to allow their starters some valuable rest.
In the end, the Patriots won the return match comfortably, but that was not the main story. It was the fact that all 12 players on the Patriots bench got a chance to run out in court and ten of the players contributed points, with three of them in double figures.
On the other hand, key Slinger signings like Al Vergara, Michael LeBlanc and Kyle Jeffers accounted for 39 of the team's output.
The Slingers may be unfortunate to lose point guard Wong Wei Long for the short term but their potential major flaw lies elsewhere.
Co-captain 2.06m centre Kyle Jeffers has proved to be a revelation in his role at the middle of the Slingers team. Averaging double digit scoring and rebounding in each game, he has brought a stability in defense that the team can build from.
If the losses of Al Vergara and Wong Wei Long prove an inconvenience for the Slingers, any prolonged loss of Jeffers either through injury or foul trouble would prove a catastrophe.
Astute and experienced he might be, yet Arsego would still be hard pressed to find a suitable replacement.
Pathman may deputize effectively as shown in the match against the Indonesian Sadria Muda team, yet he can hardly be counted on to last for an entire match. Local back-up Steven Khoo may add some steel in defense but he is still inexperienced on the larger stage.
A last resort would be to play Michael LeBlanc in the middle, but that would greatly reduce the team's perimeter offensive threat which LeBlanc excels in.
This means there are no viable replacements for the nightmare scenario of a long-term Jeffers injury.
In the face of such limitations, it is time for the Slingers organization to sign a big man for their final ASEAN player slot.
This will definitely provide the impetus for the team to step up to the next level and become more competitive.
Some may argue that the ASEAN Basketball League ought to be the grounds for blooding new local players to raise the local scene.
I beg to differ.
Results ultimately are the measure of the success of any professional team and the Slingers can ill afford a run of poor results. Any fledgling support earned from the local population can easily be dissipated once the Slingers are identified as no-hopers in the league.
Furthermore, any local member of the Slingers team will hardly learn from being at the end of a huge beating in a game.
It is no secret that teams in the ABL are stepping up their intensity after the first round of matches and the thorough pre-season preparation of the Slingers will be nullified in the next few rounds.
The Slingers need to sign a big man now.