New Slinger head coach Neo Beng Siang gives instructions to Desmond Oh. Coach Neo took over from Frank Arsego who returned to Australia at the end of last season. (Photo 1 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Singapore Indoor Stadium, Sunday, 5 September 2010 – The relief was palpable on the face of Neo Beng Siang, the new head coach of the Singapore Slingers.
This, after seeing his team dismantle the visiting Rain or Shine of the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA) 97-72 with a sparkling fourth quarter display, amidst high expectations for the team to live up to their maiden ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) showing last year where they finished runners-up in the regular season.
“I know that there are critics are out there doubtful if a local coach can lead the team. Hopefully, this result would go some way in proving them wrong,” said a smiling Neo, who was the assistant coach last year.
The Slingers have always been led by a foreign-born coach since its inception in 2006, with Australians Gordon McLeod and then Frank Arsego taking charge of the team. Frank returned to his hometown after last season for family reasons. The Slingers were eliminated by Indonesia’s Satria Muda BritAma at the semi final stage of the playoffs.
Neo need not have worried too much about changing the playing style of the 2010-2011 team as the spine of the team returned for another run. Point guard Al Vergara rejoined after a stint in the PBA while Kyle Jeffers suited up for the Slingers for another season after playing in Europe. Local boys Pathman Matialakan, Wong Wei Long, Desmond Oh and Steven Khoo, who were present last season, were also back on the roster.
Neo proved that he was equally astute in the reading of his players when he converted big man Steven Khoo to a wing position. Steven revelled in his new found role with a game-high 23 points, on the back of three-out-of-four 3-point baskets.
“Steven has been improving in his shooting since the last season, and I thought that we could try him in a new small forward role,” coach Neo elaborated.
The Slingers will be ably fortified this season by the new signings Leo Avinedo and American Marcus Skinner. Avinedo was one for the stars in the ABL last season for the Brunei Barracudas with an average 16.5 points per game while Skinner remains a bit of a mystery.
“Marcus is a workhorse on the team. He works hard for the rebounds both on the defensive and offensive ends and is strong in defense. He will be a good addition to the team this year,” explained Neo.
There was a carnival-like feel to the game when the Slingers opened up a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Coach Neo then cleared his bench with five locally-born players taking the court in the final minutes of the game. The new-look team held their own against their opponents, maintaining the 20-point cushion for a 25-point win.
Yet Neo was coy about which of the local players would eventually be selected for the Slingers.
“We still have some time to assess their performance (in the pre-season games). We’ll wait and see how the new boys (Tan Chin Hong, Brian Tan, Gary Koh, Teo Chun Hoe and Ng Han Bin) continue to improve,” he said.
One of his main challenge this season would be to gel the team into a cohesive unit fit to challenge for honours throughout the gruelling schedule. Yet with the maturing of local players like Steven Khoo and Wong Wei Long, the team has certainly taken the right first step in providing depth to the team.