From zero to hero: Alonzo Stafford and his journey to become VBA champion

October 20, 2022 - 08:45
Dunks, three-point shots and blocks, these will be the things that basketball fans remember most about Alonzo Stafford of the Saigon Heat after his first impressive season in the VBA in 2022.
Alonzo Stafford (white shirt) and his "trademark" dunks at VBA. Photo courtesy of VBA

Xuân Đăng

Dunks, three-point shots and blocks, these will be the things that basketball fans remember most about Alonzo Stafford of the Saigon Heat after his first impressive season in the VBA in 2022.

The American player won two championships, including 3x3 with the Hanoi Buffaloes and 5x5 with the Saigon Heat.

But few people know that his basketball journey before coming to Việt Nam was difficult as he did not stand out in the leagues that he previously competed in.

He had just one game at the NCAA level at Concordia University Texas before competing at the NAIA level at Central Christian College.

This is a level for small colleges and universities in the US, a level below the NCAA.

However, he did have impressive stats in NAIA league, averaging 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds during the 2015-2016 season.

Then he competed in a professional Mexican league, but did not receive high praise from experts.

However, playing there opened up an opportunity for him to play at VBA, as he met coach Eric Weissing, who is the head coach of the Buffaloes.

According to coach Weissing, he was acquainted with Stafford during the time that Stafford played in Mexico.

"I've known him (Alonzo Stafford) for a long time," Weissing said. "He played for Mineros de Cananea in a small regional tournament called CIBAPAC. He had great stats, but did not gain attention from scouts because it's a small tournament. Alonzo Stafford is a talented player. He wanted to prove himself. Even though he has not been selected by any professional club for all these years, he has always tried to give his best in the game of basketball," said coach Eric Weissing.

And it is for this reason that Eric contacted the 29-year-old player to play for the Hanoi Buffaloes in the 3x3 VBA tournament.

He won the championship with Đinh Tiến Công, Nguyễn Văn Thắng and David Lee Jones.

He also won the Slam Dunk Contest with the impressive slams.

“It was still an achievement for me to win the 3x3 with the Buffaloes, even though I would like to play in the 5x5 format,” Stafford said.

Immediately after his impressive performance in the 3x3 tournament, Saigon Heat head coach Matt Van Pelt contacted Stafford to play for the Heat.

Talking about the decision to choose Stafford, coach Van Pelt shared that before the season, he looked at about 500 point guards and 500 centers. This process took him more than three months just to find the foreign players that fit the team.

“Then I saw Alonzo Stafford playing in the 3x3 tournament in 2022 and suddenly felt this could be the man we needed. He is extremely dynamic. He can play well in the low post area and at the three point line. That’s why we chose him,” he added.

And the rest is history. He won the championship with the Heat, and helped the team become the first team to win a three-peat (three consecutive championships).

The Heat swept the Buffaloes 3-0 in the final series.

Stafford ( right) was the key factor that helped the Saigon Heat become the first team to win a three-peat. Photo courtesy of Saigon Heat

"I was feeling accomplished," Stafford said. "The goal I set for myself before going to Việt Nam was to win a championship and to achieve it felt amazing. I originally wasn’t going to come to Việt Nam but after talking to may family I decided to just chase my dreams and follow my heart and it was the best thing I could’ve done.”

“Playing against the team that brought me here was bittersweet. I was a little upset about not being picked by them but I understand the business side and I couldn’t have found a better place than the Saigon Heat,” he added.

“We definitely had great chemistry on and off the court. We built a championship type bond. We had each other’s backs and we held everyone accountable. We are family and that’s what helped us win the championship,” Stafford said of the Heat.

The only thing that he did not complete was winning MVP, as Shane Henry of the Buffaloes won the award with a very close result.

“I was surprised about not winning the MVP. Not sad, more shocked. I feel like I definitely deserved it but it is what it is. They missed out on three awards we should’ve had but at the end of the day we’re champions and that’s all that matters,” Stafford said.

“The VBA in my opinion is still growing but I had no complaints about anything. The fans were amazing, players and teammates were fun to play against and with. The atmosphere was electric from start to finish, especially at home for us,” Stafford said. “I would definitely love to come back and play for the Heat next year. It’s all up to management but I don’t see why not come back for a four-peat.” VNS