‘Viet Kieu’ basketball players find opportunity in homeland championship

The recent establishment of a professional basketball league in Vietnam has provided the opportunity for Vietnamese players based overseas to feed their passion for the sport in their home country

Horace Nguyen (L) competes for the Danang Dragons at the 2016 Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA).

Founded in 2016, the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA), is the country’s first-ever national basketball championship, and has become a playground for ‘Viet Kieu’ players with a passion for the sport.

Following several qualification rounds, nearly 20 overseas Vietnamese have been chosen to participate in this year’s VBA.

Tam Dinh, a 27-year-old ‘Viet Kieu’ from the United States, has been passionate about basketball since he was young.

At 191 centimeters tall, Dinh gave up on his dream of playing in the highly competitive National Basketball Association (NBA), and has earned a living at various jobs, including as a crane driver.

The establishment of the 2016 VBA, however, has given Dinh another chance to pursue his dream.

Playing for the Can Tho Catfish, a team from the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho, Dinh scored an average of 19.47 points per game last season.

He also set a VBA record of 41 points in a game, scored against the Saigon Heat, from Ho Chi Minh City.

At the conclusion of the championship, the Vietnamese American returned to the U.S., doubting whether he would join the tournament again, due to several difficulties in his life.

However, the continued support from fans in Vietnam has encouraged him to sign up for the second edition.

As a result, Dinh is now finalizing the necessary paperwork to compete for the Vietnamese national team in the upcoming 2017 SEA Games.

The Southeast Asian (SEA) Games is a biennial sporting competition held amongst 11 countries in the Southeast Asian region.    

Tam Dinh (C) plays for the Can Tho Catfish at the 2016 Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA). Photo: Tuoi Tre

From ‘zero’ to ‘hero’

Horace Nguyen is another ‘Viet Kieu’ who had been playing basketball since the age of six, aspiring to become a professional player when he grew up.

However, an accident at high school that caused him to be hospitalized for a long period put a stop to that dream.

Horace did manage to follow his passion by becoming the captain of his high school basketball team at West Covina for two years, before being a member of the team at Bristol University for three years.

According to the player from California, the VBA has given him a second opportunity to become a professional athlete in his homeland.

Being a member of the defending championship team, the Danang Dragons, Horace picked zero for his team number, believing that “nothing is free or given to you.”

“All success begins with your own effort. That is why I chose the number,” Horace explained.

In spite of his height of 178 centimeters, Horace wowed fans last season with his excellent three-point shooting, scoring the most from outside the arc in the league.

Following last year’s championship, Horace changed his nationality to Vietnamese under a new name, Nguyen Phuc Tam, and is also expected to play for the Vietnamese national team at the SEA Games in August.

As one of the central pillars of the Saigon Heat, Stefan Nguyen Tuan Tu, the 25-year-old ‘Viet Kieu’ from Sweden, said he only began playing in 2011 and had previously been a member of the U-20 team.

Stefan said he gave up his career in the European country and broke up with his ex-girlfriend to start a new phase of his life playing professional basketball in Vietnam.

Stefan Nguyen Tuan Tu plays for the Saigon Heat. Photo: Tuoi Tre

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