|Opening win: Saigon Heat's Avenido Leonidez tries to find a way past an Indonesia Warrior defender in their opening match last Saturday. The Heat won 72-56. — Photo saigonheat.com
HCM CITY (VNS) — Viet Nam's representative in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), Saigon Heat, seems to have found the right blend of local and foreign players to reach the play-off stage for the first time.
The team had a perfect start to the season with a convincing 72-56 victory over last year's runner-up Indonesia Warriors in the opening match on their new home ground at the Canadian International School in District 7.
American coach Jason Rabedeaux said the win was not a fluke and that he and the club's president Connor Nguyen had built a good team with the ability to reach the last four.
"We started with the players that we have built the team with, beginning with Vietnamese players, who have been practising together for the past six months. Then we worked to put together the best collection of imports that we could — Americans, Filipinos, Vietnamese Americans and local players," Rabedeaux told Viet Nam News during the team's training on Tuesday night.
"We think we have done that and we have a really solid group. We played well Saturday and we looked at the videotape and there are still many things we can get better at," Rabedeaux said.
With a mediocre record in the last two seasons, finishing sixth in the first and bottom in the third, there's still doubt about the Vietnamese side's ability, but Rabedeaux insists that he has a team that is different from those of the last two years and is confident that it has the capability to maintain its winning streak and reach its goal at the end of the season.
"We can [reach the play-off] if two things happen. One, if we continue to stay healthy and second, if we continue to improve and maintain a very aggressive and positive attitude throughout our posts," the American said.
Of two world imports, Justin Williams and Dustin Scott, Dustin put up a decent performance in the opening game but Justin was a little bit disappointing.
Rabedeaux said that Justin was a bit rusty and had not played as much as Dustin, who has just come out of a league in New Zealand, but he believes Justin will soon regain his form with practice.
Vietnamese players made a modest contribution to the opening win and they admitted that they needed to improve themselves.
"We have not been good enough to earn trust from the coach, but we are working hard to improve ourselves to get on court as much as possible," Phan Tran Man, the best local player on Saturday, said.
The team has also recruited two good regional players, Froilan Baguion and Leonidez Avenido, both Filipinos. Their ability and experience in the league has earned them a great deal of respect from the coach. They displayed a strong performance in the opening game.
"They are very smart, very quick. They understand the game and understand the league," Rabedeaux said. — VNS