Basketball couple dream of golden double at SEA Games

May 08, 2022 - 07:21

Huỳnh Thị Ngoan and Triệu Hán Minh are a special couple in Việt Nam’s basketball community. They have both been called to serve the national team at the 31st Southeast Asian Games. In their second Games, both are targeting gold medals if possible. Thanh Hà chats with them ahead of the regional biennial sporting festival.


Huỳnh Thị Ngoan and Triệu Hán Minh (right) are members of the national women's and men's basketball teams at the 31st SEA Games. Photo courtesy of Huỳnh Thị Ngoan

Inner Sanctum: How did you come to basketball and meet each other? What are your achievements in the sport?

Ngoan: I first came to HCM City to play volleyball when I was 15. One day in 2007, scouts from the basketball team came and asked me to try basketball. After three months of practising the sport, which was really new to the community, I fell in love with it and decided to switch. I have been playing basketball ever since.

I have won 10 national titles and many other local tournaments under the HCM City jersey. I was a member of the national team at the 29th SEA Games and just won a trophy at the ABL 3x3 International Champions Cup 2022, a pre-SEA Games tournament in mid-April in Bali, Indonesia.

Minh: I was inspired to play basketball by my father when I was a little boy. I then trained with HCM City Club to become an athlete. But many years have passed since then. I am a member of HCM City and contributed to the team’s seven national titles and two gold medals at the National Sports Games. In the professional VBA, I have played for HCM City Wings, Saigon Heat and now Danang Dragons. I won a VBA trophy with Saigon Heat in 2019.

Ngoan: We met each other about 10 years ago, we were both players at HCM City Club. But we were just friends in the first years. Then, we both participated in a tournament far from home in 2016. He expressed his feeling and asked me to be his girlfriend. I said nothing and made him wait a month before saying "Yes". We got married in 2018.

Inner Sanctum: You were playing for Saigon Heat, Việt Nam’s first professional basketball club. Why did you want to move away to make a life far from home and family?

Minh: After many years competing in HCM City, I wanted to test myself in another environment. The Heat managers talked to me and wanted me to stay, but I wanted new challenges in a new team.

My wife fully supported my decision. She is also an athlete, even the same sport as me, so she understood my feelings and thinking. She encouraged me to follow my passion, and choose a suitable place for me to contribute to basketball as much as I could.

As an athlete, I always want to enjoy the feeling of victory. Coming to Danang Dragons, I hope to help the club and nurture my passion to find that feeling again.

It was sad that the season was cancelled because we worked hard and played every match like a final. I thought about the second title, but we could not make it.

Inner Sanctum: However, how do you feel about the development of Vietnamese basketball? Women’s basketball has not received people’s attention much. What will you do to get people excited about it?

Minh: Basketball has been rapidly growing. Many people know and play basketball. There are many tournaments for different groups of people of different ages. It will push the sport up and also help us find talented players for the national team.

Ngoan: Like any sport, the more competitions are held, the more people will enjoy it. If Việt Nam can organise a Women’s VBA for us, it would be great. That new professional competition will push our level and lift women’s basketball.

Triệu Hán Minh expects a better result than bronze this May in Hà Nội. Photo of Phạm Huy

Inner Sanctum: Being colleagues, do you share professional knowledge? How do you support each other?

Minh: We are in the stands when the other is playing. We share joy and happiness with each other when we win. We comfort each other when we lose. If we stay far from each other, calls and messages are the best way for us to encourage each other.

Ngoan: With the same ‘job’, we can easily understand difficulties and share experiences. We fully support each other in and out of the court. Basketball brings us together, and speaking about basketball helps us know each other better.

But the most important thing in sport is good health, which plays a key role in good training and high results in competing. Before and after marriage, both of us live with our passion. That makes us really happy.

Inner Sanctum: How did you feel being named on the national team to compete at the 31st SEA Games?

Ngoan: I was delighted, proud, and surprised, as both of us were called. I will go along with my husband to the training camp. We have asked and encouraged each other to practise harder and harder every day.

Minh: I never thought of being named. When coach Phan Thanh Cảnh told me I was selected and asked me to prepare for the training camp, I thought he was kidding. It was great news for me. I was very excited as I would join a team of talented players. It is more remarkable that a husband and wife will serve the national team at the SEA Games together for the second time. Our first time was in the Malaysia SEA Games in 2017.

Inner Sanctum: This year, with the return of overseas Vietnamese players, there is tough competition for official berths. What do you make of these challenges?

Ngoan: I believe this is the most competitive and challenging training camp. Because I have to vie against more players than previously, and the players are more talented. There are 16 names, but only 12 are picked. Everyone wants to play at the SEA Games on home soil, so all work hard to well complete their daily jobs and show their abilities to coaches. It is a tense competition.

I am not the oldest player in the team, but I think with my ability, experience and effort, I will vie equally for a berth.

Minh: In the men’s team, the number of players is even higher than on the women’s. There are also more overseas Vietnamese, so it is very challenging. I have to try my best to meet the coaches’ demands and practise all I can.

Huỳnh Thị Ngoan hopes to be in the top three with the women's team. Photo courtesy of Huỳnh Thị Ngoan 

Inner Sanctum: Congratulation on your ABL 3x3 International Champions Cup 2022 title. How do you feel about that, you burst into tears after the final whistle?

Ngoan: I am happy, still happy now. It was a really emotional moment for me. It was the first time that I played abroad and won a title. My team, for different reasons, had almost no time to practise together before the tournament, but we worked and cooperated well to grab the highest place. It made me cry in happiness.

I have to say thank you to everyone and my husband, who watched and encouraged me a lot.

I hope the title will be a key element that will help me enter the national team shortlist.

Inner Sanctum: Who are the main rivals to beat this Games? What are your targets?

Ngoan: First, I hope that I will be selected for the final 12 players of the team to represent Việt Nam at the Games. And then, I hope my team will be in the top three, grabbing a medal.

To me, every team is a formidable rival. We have to play our best every game if we want to have our first medal.

Minh: Yes, my biggest goal is also the final 12 players, meaning I can play first. Then, I will steal a berth in the first team. And finally, I want to join my hands in helping Việt Nam change the colour of our medals from bronze to, at least, silver or, even better, gold.

In ASEAN, the Philippines and Indonesia are really strong, with many naturalised players who are bigger and taller than Vietnamese. So we have to have suitable tactics, counter-attacks, for example.

But playing on home turf, we will have local support, pushing us to compete more energetically, aggressively, and effectively.  VNS