Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — Saigon Heat look set to win the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) in the 2016-17 season.
This is the fifth time they are participating in the league.
In the first match on Sunday, Việt Nam’s first professional club will host Singapore Sling at the Canada International School’s Arena in HCM City.
The team, who unexpectedly lost at the national first league last month, shopped a lot to prepare for the international competition.
Christien Charles, who has played in four ABL seasons, is the most wanted player.
Centre Charles, whose height is 2.16m, wore the Hi-Tech Bangkok City’s jersey last year and is well-known among Vietnamese fans.
The American who triumphed with his former club in 2014 grabbed personal titles of ABL World Import MVP in 2013 and 2014 and ABL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and 2016.
In the latest season, Charles scored 17.3 points, 15.8 rebounds and 3.3 steals per match on average.
The 35-year-old said modesty and admiration is the key to make him more confident on court, adding the unity and understanding among teammates would bring success to any team.
Charles said he was "shocked" to witness the love Vietnamese fans gave to the Heat, irrespective of whether the team won or lost. He knew fans were an important part of the team and he was happy to join Saigon Heat.
Meanwhile, for coach Anthony Garbelotto, Thailand’s loss is definitely the Heat’s gain.
“The most important signing for us was Christien because he is not only one of the best international players at that position, but he also gives the team character, in addition to his experience,” the coach said on aseanbasketballleague.com.
Charles is expected to make a perfect duo with Lenny Daniel, the best foreign player of the Heat last season.
The second-year man is the Heat’s Swiss army knife, capable of playing at all positions and defending all of them equally well. Daniel is also one of the most athletic international players in the league, routinely capable of throwing coast to coast slams and finishing lobs from his teammates. He’s a tireless worker who will make sure the Heat will always be competitive irrespective of who the competition is.
The Heat managers have also brought home Joshua Munzon, a Filipino American player. Munzon from California State University persuaded coach Garbelotto to let him replace last year’s import Moses Morgan.
The Heat’s No 1 — Việt Arnold — promises to play for another year, bringing the passion and excitement that has made him a favourite in the city.
Arnold has proved to be a steady playmaker and a willing passer and was also more than capable of hitting clutch shots.
The Vietnamese American will be supported by local players, such as Ngô Tuấn Trung, Tô Quang Trung and Nguyễn Thành Nhân, whose skills have improved a lot after a year at the Việt Nam Basketball Association League recently.
“Now we really understand the challenges, the level and what the expectations are,” Garbelotto said. “I think we are all approaching it completely differently this year. And more importantly, we know what our deficiencies are and we feel we’ve addressed them.”
“We are targeting making the finals this year,” Garbelotto said.
“We want to target a top two finish in the league and we want to target getting into the finals because that’s the evolution. Of course, there are three new teams, but we’re looking at Malaysia and Singapore, seeing how they did it year on year and got better.
“We’re very respectful of their organisations and how they went through their process. They addressed their shortcomings, had their setbacks and disappointments. I think we’ve been through enough of that now. We’ve learned, we feel we’re experienced and that’s what we’re aiming at.”
This year former winner Hi-tech Bangkok City will not compete as they are busy with a local tournament.
However, reigning champions Westports Malaysia Dragons are available to defend their title.
Singapore Slinger, who are the first runners-up team, also receive strong support, making them as dangerous as the national squad. They defeated Westports Malaysia Dragons 80-62 in the tournament’s opening match last Friday and then won 71-66 over Alab Pilipinas on Sunday.
Alab Pilipinas of the Philippines are an unknown entity as they are newcomers. Basketball is popular in their country but Filipino basketball clubs have not bagged a significant result in regional tournaments.
This year, the Heat will face two invited clubs — Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions and Kaohsiung Truth — who are not from this region.
Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions were established in 1932 and have contributed many national players to the Asian championships for many years.
They are keen to win the ABL trophy at their debut here.
Kaohsiung Truth are the lone team from Taiwan and have already enlisted several players to bolster their squad for the season, such as Americans James Tyler and Chris Oliver and Taiwanese Carlos Andrade, Wesley Hsu, and Sabatino Chen.
Kaohsiung Truth lost 79-90 to Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions on Sunday and they will meet again tomorrow. — VNS