After three seasons of making the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) playoffs but failing to go beyond the first round, the Saigon Heat may be poised for a breakout season.
Out with the old, in with the new. Gone are former bench boss Tony Garbelotto, star player Lenny Daniel, former league MVP Christien Charles and many of the team’s domestic players from last season. In come Canadian coach Kyle Julius, import players Travele Jones and Akeem Scott, and numerous call-ups from Vietnam’s domestic league. And after their first two home games of the season, it looks like it may all come up roses.
The home opener against Lenny Daniel and his new team, the Formosa Dreamers, was going well until the team fizzled out in the fourth quarter and dropped an 80-75 decision. While it was an entertaining affair, Julius acknowledged the season had started with the team behind the eight-ball.
“Some of the stuff that went well for us during the game was the simple fact that I was able to experience some of the ABL character and culture that I was not able to prepare for,” Julius said. “Things like officiating and the way the Saigon Heat is viewed and treated will now allow me to better prepare the team moving forward.
“We only dressed seven players and that was our first real competition after having a short-handed training camp. So now I have a better feel for the entire process.”
“I don't think we competed the way I wanted to for 40 minutes so that was disappointing. However, fatigue and lack of substitutions attributed to a lower battle level than we had hoped for.”
Their next game was against Thailand’s Mono Vampire, and it was a statement victory as the Heat unleashed an array of three-pointers, making a league record in the process.
“The first win is good because I was [tough] on the guys,” Julius said. “We worked hard, I constantly challenged them and pushed them. We didn't skip any steps and they responded.
“I'm happy for the guys. There were no adjustments made. We just did the same stuff much better.”
Julius said it’s important for the team to improve and continue to work with that same energy daily.
“We are officially two months behind the rest of the league,” Julius said. “Every other team has had exhibition games and much longer preparation. As a result, we need time to continue to get better.”
For info on the next Heat home game, check out their website or visit their Facebook page.
PHOTO BY BAO ZOAN