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What to Expect From the 3rd Season of the Vietnam Basketball Association

From back-flipping dancers to some new faces in new places, the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) press conference, held Wednesday afternoon in Binh Thanh District, had a bit of everything.

The event was set up to give the media a taste of things to come as the league enters its third season. Players sporting the colors of their respective teams, owners from each squad and league sponsors were all on hand. Even Harvard University point guard Christian Juzang, in Vietnam on an internship, took in the proceedings.

“Since the start of Saigon Heat seven years ago, there was a dream to build a basketball culture,” Heat owner Henry Nguyen said. “And that dream came true three years ago when we started the VBA."

“When we started this league, we had high hopes that we’d start a winning culture and a winning team on the national level for Vietnam. If you’ve watched some of our recent competitions, we’ve made big strides to becoming one of the more competitive teams in this region," Nguyen added.

Some new personnel rules have been implemented to help develop the talent pool for each team, with all squads able to carry junior players as “inactive” on their rosters, with an eye on them moving up to the main squads in the coming years. In addition, there will be more local flavor on each team, with a minimum of three players required to be native to each team's respective city, and presumably playing substantial outreach roles in those markets.

“The vision is to develop basketball in Vietnam,” said league COO Nga Le. “All the teams have to develop basketball in their cities. We need idols from those cities."

An intriguing fact pointed out in the Vietnamese press notes was the average salary of a domestic VBA player; something that was never addressed in previous seasons. For those interested, the average pay for a local baller is VND12 million per month.

“There was a lot of misinformation out there [about player salaries],” Nguyen said after the formal speeches had been made.

Salaries aside, the focus was on the strides the league has made, as well as what lies ahead. One team facing especially high expectations is the Hanoi-based Thang Long Warriors, which won the league title in its first year last season over the Can Tho Catfish. But owner Tracy Thu Luong, a rare female team owner in Vietnamese sports, shied away from predicting an outright repeat.

“It was lucky [to win the title] for the first time,” Luong said before the press conference, admitting that becoming champions right out of the gate put the spotlight on hoops in Hanoi, which is also home to the crosstown rival Buffaloes. “This year, competition is high. For a league like the VBA, I appreciate that.”

A handful of players from each franchise were in attendance at the event, with the Catfish particularly well-represented, including coach Kevin Yurkus, who was seated next to Luong. The Warriors owner even translated for him throughout the press conference. Yurkus surmised the league is stronger as a whole, and that every team has a shot at the title.

“It’s going to take an effort against every team this year,” he said. “There’s tremendous parity, we’ve got to worry about all the teams.”

Can Tho Vietnamese-American star Sang Dinh admitted the team was hungry to return to the finals, with a squad whose games draw fans from across the Mekong Delta cheering them on every night. Dinh added that staying healthy was key for him, with earlier seasons plagued by a variety of injuries.

“I have a good feeling [about this season],” Dinh said. “This is my third season and it’s crazy whenever we play.”

The preseason kicks off next week in Can Tho, with the home Catfish taking on the Saigon Heat on May 31 in the Mekong Delta. The regular season, featuring six teams, will run until mid-August, followed by playoff basketball.

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