When Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander were asked to return to Singapore as the club’s two world imports, the answer was only one phone call away.
After leading the Slingers to a club best 16-4 ASEAN Basketball League season and grand final appearance in 2015-16, the duo stayed in contact over the off-season, and when the time came to make a decision to return to Singapore they made it together.
“Justin and I spoke on the phone and said ‘let’s go back’,” Alexander said.
“The Slingers organisation, the coaches and my teammates are definitely grade A. I had options to go other places but when you can come back and play with the same guys, it’s a lot more comfortable.”
Howard, who spent part of the off-season in his home town of Orlando, Florida, and playing in the Thailand Basketball League, said the unique team chemistry and the city of Singapore itself made him want to return for his third season with the club.
“This is more than just a team,” he said. “It’s more like a family.”
“I’ve never been on a team where the guys have been so close. The relationship between the coaching staff, management and players makes it really comfortable to be here in Singapore.
“I’ve played all over South East Asia, and Singapore is a great city. The support for the Slingers is growing, and I just really enjoy it here.”
It is the first time in Slingers history the club has retained the services of both world imports from the previous season, and coach Neo Beng Siang is delighted to have them back for the 2016-17 ABL season.
“They took us to the grand final last season, so of course we are very happy with Justin and Xavier,” he said.
“That’s why we brought them back. We need Justin to give us the height and presence on the boards and Xavier to give us energy. We need these two guys to give us another boost this season.”
Howard was a monster for the Slingers last season, averaging 20.8 points, 15.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, while Alexander proved to be a match winner on his way to averaging 19.3 points per game, 9.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists over the course of the season.
The pair will be expected to have a similar impact this season if the Slingers are to mount another challenge for the ABL championship, and Howard is confident the duo’s chemistry will be able to help the Slingers reach their goal.
“Our games really complement each other,” the 6’11” centre said.
“Xavier’s very good defensively, and on the offensive end he’s excellent in transition and driving and cutting to the basket. On the other hand, I’m a big space eater down by the basket and can shoot the mid-range jump shot and finish inside the paint. Our games also fit in really well with the local players.”
Alexander, who is 28 years old, spent most of the off-season in his hometown of Oklahoma City “chasing after his kids” and working on improving his perimeter shooting.
“I focused on getting better as a player,” he said. “After every season I’ve always thought about what I need to improve, and then worked on it in the off-season. Last season teams started to focus on my strengths, so I’ve got to find other ways to stay involved.”
Both players said the team was hungry to build on last season’s success.
Howard insisted it was important the team put last year behind them and focus on the challenges ahead.
“We don’t want to keep talking about last year,” he said.
“This is a new season. We are all hungry and want success again.”
The Slingers tip-off their 2016-17 ABL season this Friday, Nov 25, at OCBC Arena.
Tickets are available at all APACTix outlets or at the venue one hour prior to each home game.
Article written by Michael Farrell