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Members of Saigon Heat are pictured at the press conference - PHOTO: COURTESY OF ORGANIZER

At a glitzy press conference for the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) squad held on Wednesday in Crescent Mall in District 7, there were old and new faces in attendance.

Last season’s incarnation of the squad achieved the team’s best-ever regular season result with a 14-12 record, as well as winning the first postseason game in franchise history against the BTN CLS Knights Indonesia club, with fans flooding the home court following the historic win. But the euphoria was short-lived as the Knights took the deciding game to seize the series, leaving Saigon yet again unable to advance in the playoff format.

Some key off-season signings include former Toronto Raptor and NBA veteran Gary Forbes and ABL mainstay Christien Charles, a former league MVP. The towering 38-year-old Charles drew plenty of stares from onlookers speaking on the sidelines of the event, returning to the Heat after a previous stint with the team and time spent working with Saigon-based trainer Justin Parkes over the years.

He acknowledged being the primary threat at this stage of his career is unlikely, and that he may undertake a different role with Saigon this season.

“I’d been talking to Coach Kev, he’s been in the region for a while,” said Charles. “(He) asked if I wanted an opportunity here.

“We’ve got high-level imports and some great national team players… But any (ABL) team can win on any given night.”

American Yurkus echoed Charles’ view of the parity that stretches through the league. Yurkus is new to the team himself after replacing Canadian bench boss Kyle Julius, who has moved on to ABL rivals Chinese Taipei Formosa Dreamers, ensuring some interesting clashes for the Heat on the 10-team circuit.

 

Yurkus spent last season with the Heat’s broadcast team and is familiar to many Vietnamese fans from his time with the Can Tho Catfish of the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) and coaching with the bronze medal-winning national team at the SEA Games last month in Manila. He called the experience with the national team “extraordinary.”

“Any time you can support your country, what an honor,” he said, speaking about the excitement surrounding the team winning the first-ever medal for Vietnam in basketball at that competition. “We’re trying to get (those national team players) ready to turn the page for the ABL season.”

Names like Tam Dinh, Justin Young and Chris Dierker all were members of that team and represent the squad’s domestic contingent as the Heat must now play a condensed schedule because of the SEA Games time constraints. Time is of the essence for the team to gel ahead of a January 3 home opener against Thailand’s Mono Vampire squad, with the Heat once again playing out of CIS Stadium in District 7.

For more information about the team, visit their Facebook page or go to saigonheat.com. SGT

Harry Hodge

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