For Saigon Heat head coach Tony Garbelotto, the term “go with what you know” is a big part of the club’s fourth season in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL).
Or perhaps “who” is more accurate.
As bench boss of both the Heat and Vietnam’s men’s national team, it’s understandable that many of his domestic players are members of both teams. To this end, Vietnamese players are already seeing more court time than in previous years, with To Quang Trung being the first opening-day starter in memory for this still-young franchise.
“I like our Vietnamese guys at the moment,” Garbelotto says, pointing to the progress of Trung as well as veteran Trieu Han Minh, a member of the club dating back to the franchise’s first roster. “I believe we can win (with our lineup).”
Vietnamese-American shooting guard David Arnold returns after helping guide the club to its first-ever playoff appearance last season, and is joined by countrymen Will Creekmore and Lenny Daniel. Thai-American Moses Morgan fills an ASEAN regional player spot on the roster, along with Swedish-Vietnamese sharpshooter Stefan Nguyen, who is designated as a “heritage” player.
Getting to Know Each Other
The club looked like it needed more time to gel in a season-opening 86-74 loss to the Singapore Slingers at home on Halloween. Despite encouragement from the boisterous home crowd, the veteran Slingers showed that team chemistry is not an overnight phenomenon, and pounced on numerous miscues. The physical matchup also took its toll on Daniel, hitting the floor hard on numerous occasions and eventually fouling out, despite notching a double-double.
After that, things look like they are coming together for the 2015 edition of this team. A back-and-forth 100-92 overtime loss to the Westports Malaysia Dragons in November showed great resolve for the Heat. Three of the American players fouled out, leaving Arnold and four domestic players to battle one of the league’s top teams in overtime. While it may not have seemed like it at the time, it was an important moment for Vietnamese players to be on the court during overtime in a big game.
“It was a way better effort,” says Morgan, one of those who fouled out in the overtime thriller. “We came out with a lot of energy.”
He adds: “I personally can learn from this game. Shoot shots, make shots.”
Here’s hoping that mentality carries on through the rest of the regular season, and that a return to the playoffs is on the horizon.
A Year in Sports
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Another year has come and gone for sports in Vietnam, with plenty of highlights and some disappointments too. Here, we look back at some of the most notable moments in 2015.
Becamex Binh Duong were hoping to show that Vietnam can compete with Asia’s top football clubs, but couldn’t hang with Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol in a 5-1 thumping in March. The club still managed to hoist the V-League title this past September, however.
Making its debut in May, the Ironman 70.3 event attracted competitors from around the world to Danang for triathlon glory. Competitors had to endure not only the grueling 1.9-kilometer swim, 90-kilometer cycle and 21-kilometer run, but temperatures heading north of 38oC. South Africa’s James Cunnama took the men’s title in a time of 3:51:29 and Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen grabbed the women’s crown in 4:21:40.
Nguyen Thi Anh Vien made waves in and out of the pool this year. The Can Tho teenager dominated at the recent SEA Games in Singapore in June, medalling in 10 different disciplines and winning eight. Endorsements and fame have followed, but expectations have also risen for her to help Vietnam improve on its previous achievements at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Other notable performances at the SEA Games included performances from sprinter Le Trong Hinh in the men’s 200 meters, and female boxers Le Thi Bang and Nguyen Thi Yen. It also marked the return of the men’s national basketball team, coached by Saigon Heat coach Tony Garbelotto, after a long absence. Vietnam bagged 73 golds and over 180 medals overall.
Not So Pretty
The story of a Vietnamese fan burning his expensive Manchester City football tickets in July made headlines for all the wrong reasons. The highly-anticipated match between the English Premier League side and Vietnam’s national team saw fans queueing for hours to buy tickets, only to see a video posted on YouTube of some of the British club’s stars, such as Joe Hart and Samir Nasri, snubbing fans at the team hotel. They were even less friendly on the field, doling out an 8-1 thrashing at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi.
Professional boxing made some headlines in Ho Chi Minh City this year, the Saigon Sports Club staging its second event in September. Five three-round bouts in the lighter weight classes during the September event attracted enthusiasts from around the city, but a beer vendor would have been appreciated on site. Some of the loudest cheers were reserved for the ring girls, but the event bodes well for further fight cards in the future.
A low point for fight fans in the city came for mixed martial arts that same month and included heavy fines being levied against film star Johnny Tri Nguyen for staging an unsanctioned competition at his martial arts club. Nguyen appealed the decision, arguing the school helps young people in a non-profit capacity.
Tennis and Quads
High-level tennis came to Ho Chi Minh City in October, with Indian star Saketh Myneni claiming the Vietnam Open title at the Lan Anh Country Club with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Australia’s Jordan Thompson.
November was highlighted by the first edition of the Rainforest Challenge off-road racing event to debut in Binh Duong Province with 4x4s crashing through the mud and vegetation for big prizes.
In short, 2015 featured plenty of the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of Vietnamese sports. Here’s looking forward to more excitement in 2016!