Merlion Cup 2017 Preview: Group A

We’re still reeling from an exciting Seri Mutiara Cup but basketball never stops! Heading a little further down south of Kuala Lumpur will be the Merlion Cup which will be held in Singapore during 20-24 September! Let’s check out the preview for the teams in Group A of the tournament!This is the second consecutive year that the Merlion Cup will be held after it’s revival from a long hibernation last season. The event was well-received and it was no surprise when it was announced that the Merlion Cup would be returning this year.

After hosting 6 teams last year (with the Shanghai Sharks crowned as champions), the Merlion Cup has added one more team to the total roster this season. The teams are put into two groups who will play each other in a Single-Round Robin format. The top two teams in each group will play in a knockout round playoff while the 3 bottom teams will play in 5th to 7th place qualification games.

Group A Group B
Shanghai Sharks (China) Adelaide 36ers (Australia)
Satria Muda Pertamina (Indonesia) Yulon Luxgen Dinos (Chinese-Taipei)
Jeonju KCC Egis (Korea) Singapore Slingers (Singapore)
NLEX-SCTEX (Philippines)

With a solid balance from East Asian teams and South East Asian teams (and Hello to Oceania!) this was setting up to be a very interesting tournament.

Teams are allowed 3 foreign imports on the court at the same time.

Let’s preview the teams in Group A first!

Merlion Cup 2017: Group A

Shanghai Sharks (China)

Jersey No. Player Name
1 Cai Liang
3 Huang Xu
5 Yan Peng
7 Chris Tang
12 Lu Wei
16 Dong Hanlin
19 Zhu Ying
21 Huang Shiqian
22 Zhai Yi
23 Max Zhang
25 Wang Tong
27 Luo Zhi
32 Jimmer Fredette
33 Luo Hanchen
41 Nick Minnerath
47 Shi Yuchen
76 Tseng Wen-Ting

The Sharks were an elite team in the CBA last season, finishing in 5th place with a 32-11 record. They were carried by the ridiculous play of Import MVP Jimmer Freddette who averaged 37.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists last season. Freddette also carried the Sharks to the Merlion Cup championship last season and was expected to return this year, but word on the street is that Freddette will not be available anymore for this tournament due to an injury.

Even without Freddette, the Sharks will be a handful with their other import Nick Minnerath (22.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 34.4 3P% for Avtodot Saratov in Russia).

Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images North America

Minnerath does not have the pedigree of being an NCAA superstar and a top 10 NBA Draft pick like Freddette, but his story is just as enticing. If you have a couple of minutes, make sure to read Minnerath’s path to being a professional basketball player (here and here) and you just can’t help but to root for the guy. From a drug junkie in high school to an unheralded college career, Minerrath has managed to become an athletic scorer who is highly valued in the NBA G-League and International player. What’s your excuse for not being successful?

Inspirational success stories aside, the Sharks will still need plenty of more offensive firepower to fill in the void left by the injured Freddette. Max Zhang (8.7 points and 7.4 rebounds last season) will be the main man in the middle for the Sharks as he has always been, alongside veteren Taiwanese Import Tseng Wen-Ting.

Sharks fans might also be looking forward to watching how Luo Han-Chen fits in with the team after recently joining from the Shenzhen Leopards. The 23-year-old had multiple stints with the Youth National Team and played major minutes for the Leopards in 2013-2014, but has since seen his playing time dwindle away. Maybe a move to the Sharks was the change of scenery that he had needed.

The other two highlighted players for the Shanghai Sharks are Wang Tong and Yan Peng. I don’t really know much about neither of them and they don’t really have any stats from the previous season that encourages excitement, but Google searches resulted in finding out they were signed as development players with the Brisbane Bullets as development players in the Australian NBL last season… so that’s something.

What to Expect

The Sharks were sooooo dependent on Freddette last year that I’m really having a hard time imagining what they’ll look like without him. With that said, Yao Ming’s team weren’t one of the elite teams in the CBA just because of Freddette and Minnerath is no pushover either.

A return to the Merlion Cup Finals should be the very least the Sharks should expect this year.

Satria Muda Pertamina (Indonesia)

Jersey No. Player Name
0 Gary Jacobs Jr
1 Laurentius Steven Oei
2 Hardianus Lakudu
4 Vamiga Michel
8 Muhammad Sandy Ibrahim Aziz
11 Audy Bagastyo Arizanugra
13 Gunawan
21 Muhammad Rizal Falconi
24 Kevin Loiselle
30 Kevin Yonas Argadiba Sitorus
35 Juan Laurent Kokodiputra
44 Dior Alexandros Lowhorn
50 Muhammad Dhiya’ul Haq

The late addition of Satria Muda Pertamina to the playing field was a pleasent surprise for basketball fans. It had been quite a while since seeing the Satria Muda in the international scene (at least for me).

The Indonesia Basketball League 2016-2017 runner-ups had recently wrapped up an exhibition tour in Taiwan and didn’t take much time to rest before continuing their off-season build up with this Merlion Cup.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

Sadly, the Indonesian powerhouse will be without their star international players Arki Wisnu and Christian Ronaldo Sitepu. However, they will still have Hardianus Lakudu and Kevin Yonas Sitorus, two of their most prized youngsters on the team and recent National Team players. Lakudu (4.2 points and 4.3 assists) is a pass-first point guard and looks to be next in line for the starting National Team point guard position after Mario Wuysang retires. Sitorus (4.8 points and 6.3 rebounds) is also coming up quickly, evolving into a legit stretch 4 prospect.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

The most brightest prospect for Satria Muda might actually be IBL 2016-2017 Rookie of the Year,  Juan Laurent Kokodiputra. While he might not have been called up to the Senior National Team yet (though a stint in the SEABA Championship 2015 should count for something), he’s certainly proved himself worth of a mention by being among the major minute loggers on the team right alongside his elder team mates. In the Merlion Cup where Satria Muda will not have a guy like Arki Wisnu to focus on offense with, it’ll be fun to see if they get Kokodiputra into more action.

Satria Muda didn’t reach out far to get their foreign aid imports Gary Jacobs, Kevin Loiselle, and Dior Lowhorn.

Jacobs and Loiselle had played in IBL 2016-2017 and Lowhorn was close to playing in the league as well before some disputes left him ineligible to suit up. Jacobs, the IBL Foreign Player of the Year, led the league in scoring with 27.9 points (along with 8.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists) playing for the woeful NSH Jakarta who failed to make the playoffs. Loiselle had a slightly better campaign with Pacific Caesar who made the playoffs averaging 22.1 points, 13.9 rebounds.

Photo Credit: ASEAN Basketball League

The most intriguing and noteworthy import, however, should be the well-travelled Dior Lowhorn. The journeyman has been a scoring machine in every team he’s played for. Lowhorn is no stranger to the ASEAN region, having played in pocket tournaments all over in addition to legit Imports for in high-level leagues like the PBA and the ABL. The most interesting storylines about Lowhorn in the Merlion Cup is that he once played for the Slingers in 2014 averaging 25.9 points and 9.9 rebounds before their two consecutive ABL Finals trips.

LATE UPDATE: Satria Muda seems to have changed their roster to take out Kevin Loiselle and add Shawn Taggart at the last moment.

What to Expect

I wouldn’t want to expect much especially with Wisnu and Sitepu not in the lineup. IBL Coach of the Year, Youbel Sondakh, should be looking to test out his players in different roles. They should be solid and at least entertaining with the youth movement they have going on, but it’s going to be a struggle to get into the Semi-Finals.

Jeonju KCC Egis (Korea)

Jersey No. Player Name
0 Ha Seung-Jin
1 Charles Rhodes
2 Andre Emmett
3 Tae-Poong Chon
6 Jun-woo Park
7 Kyo-chang Song
8 Ji-Hoo Kim
9 Kyung-Sang Park
10 Hyun-Min Lee
12 Song Chang Young
13 Tae-Soo Joo
15 Se-jin Park
17 Myong-ho Sin
22 Seung-ook Choi
23 Min-Goo Kim 

Jeonju KCC Egis had a huge turnaround from finishing 2nd place in 2015-2016 dropping all the way down to the bottom at 10th with a 17-37 record. I’m not going to try to be an expert about what exactly happened but just wanted to point out that out. Seriously, I don’t know much about Korean basketball. Give me a break.

It might be hard to believe but the player who has played the most games in the NBA on this team is not a foreign import!

Charles Rhodes, who was a first team All-SEC player in 2007-2008, has yet to play in the NBA even after several Summer League stints.
Andre Emmett was an early 2nd round draft pick after a stellar career at Texas Tech, but even he managed to log only 14 games across two seasons with the New Jersey Nets and the Memphis Grizzles.

Photo Credit: Yonhap News

Turns out it’s 7’3″ Ha Seung-Jin who played in a total of 46 games for the Portland Trailblazers (and 4 starts!)! Seung-Jin’s career wasn’t remarkable (1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game) but it’s still a pretty big deal nonetheless. I have no idea what Seung-Jin did after falling out of the NBA, but at some point, he returned to the Korean KBL and was a staple of the Jeonju KCC Egis team, posing as a nightly threat to collect a double-double. For whatever possible reason (most likely injury), Seung-Jin played only 2 games for Egis last season which might have also been a factor for their horrible record.

And just because Rhodes and Emmett played in less NBA games, doesn’t mean they are lesser.

This will be Emmett’s third season in with Egis. He’s been a big time scorer everywhere he goes and it was no different with the Korean club even in his mid-thirties. Last season, he averaged 28.8 points and 7.3 rebounds. (Psssssss and he also played as an import for the Meralco Bolts back in 2015).

Photo Credit: Tristan Tamayo (Inquirer)

Talking about the PBA, Egis’ Import Charles Rhodes is none other than the PBA’s 2016-2017 Governor’s Cup Best Import of the San Miguel Beermen. Rhodes was a dominating force, averaging 27.0 points and 11.0 rebounds. for the already uber-talented Beerman and it resulted in a dominating championship winning conference. Rhodes even offered himself up for being Naturalized for the Philippines National Team but was politely declined.

Egis’ interesting local prospects (for me at least) are Kyo-chang Song and Min-Goo Kim. The 21-year-old Song got a huge break in his second season in the KBL which saw his minutes quadruple for Egis. He responded by raising his production as well to average 11.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. His role on the team has shot up from 0.13 Win Shares to 3.85 in just one season as well, so that’s some thing to look out for.

Min-Goo Kim is on this list because his name reminds me of Flubber. And he’s also played on the Korean National Team in the FIBA Asia Cup 2013, too.

But mostly because his name reminds me of Flubber.

What to Expect

Emmett and Rhodes alone are probably good enough to land Egis at least a second place finish in the group. If their local players can get a good shooting night against the Shanghai Sharks, then may Egis can land on top.

NLEX-SCTEX (Philippines)

Jersey No. Player Name
0 Pamboy Raymundo
6 Aj Vitug
7 Jason Perkins
9 Harold Arboleda
10 Andreas Cahilig
15 Byron Villarias
16 JP Belencion
18 Apinan Jeckster
19 Maurice Shaw
22 Ryan Batino
24 Oping Sumalinog
36 Mark Pangilinan

This NLEX-SCTEX team is more or less the same team as the Cignal HD Hawkeyes that recently won the PBA D-League Foundation Cup late in August.

The glaring difference is the lack of PBA D-League Foundation Cup MVP, Raymar Jose, who was instead called up to play for Chooks-To-Go Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup. However, the team still has their star player Jason Perkins, the Fil-Am out of DLSU.

Photo Credit: PBA D-League

While Perkins had a awkward twisting collegiate career that saw his production drop every season, the Hefty Lefty is still highly regarded as one of the better amateur prospects around in the Philippines. It’s unlikely that Perkins will drop past the first round in the upcoming PBA Draft and a solid performance with NLEX-SCTEX should help in improving his stock.

Another player who is looking to improve his PBA Draft stock is Andres Cahilig, a 26-year-old Fil-Swede. I honestly don’t know much more about Cahilig other than that he had a strong start in the season, but the lack of any stats to support from the PBA D-League website, I guess I put him here because his name is fun to say.

NLEX-SCTEX will be fielding only one import in this tournament and that is Maurice Shaw. He recently played in the Thailand Basketball Super League, starting with the Kabayan (17.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 44.7 FG%) and finished the second half of the season with PEA (22.6 points, 14.6 rebonuds, 48.2 FG%).

Photo Credit: Maurice Shaw’s Facebook

What to Expect

I’m all for Philippines basketball and all the #Puso in the world, but let’s face the truth here. Going into this level of competition with only one import (who doesn’t exactly have the most polished track record) is not going to be pretty.

Even Coach Jojo Lastimosa is already out there telling every one to chill down about their expectations, especially with the bar set by Mighty Sports last season (Runner Up).

Read here for Group B Team Previews!


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