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Opportunity Overseas Proves To Be a Win-Nguyen For CMU Shooting Guard

After moving to Canada with his family at the age of 9, Binh Nguyen has always had ambitious hoop dreams. One of his goals is to finish his five years of university basketball eligibility and an undergraduate degree, but the 6'0 guard has also begun to imagine even bigger dreams and a professional basketball career in his native Vietnam where an opportunity awaits him to play pro and to represent his native Vietnam on the national men's basketball team.

The popularity of basketball is rapidly stretching across the globe and nowhere more than Southeast Asia where developed leagues thrive in The Phillipines, Indonesia and Thailand and since 2016, professional basketball has been a slam dunk in Vietnam. 

"I have known about the VBA (Vietnam Basketball Association) since the league began in 2016," said Nguyen. "Ever since then, I have been putting in plenty of work on my craft to prepare for an opportunity to play there. Basketball in Vietnam is growing and growing and I am honoured to be part of the development of the sport in my home country."

A big breakthrough for Nguyen came this spring when he was introduced to Saigon Heat head coach and Director of Vietnam Basketball, Kevin Yurkus. Yurkus moved from the US to Southeast Asia to coach professionally in Thailand and has since moved on to coach in the VBA. After a brief stint with Vietnam's Can Tho Catfish, Yurkus connected with Nguyen from his current head coaching post with the Heat.  

"We have connections throughout the US and Canada who are on the lookout for talented players with Vietnamese heritage," explained Yurkus, when asked about how he became aware of Nguyen. "We are still getting to know Binh as a basketball player but from what we see, he is an exceptional outside shooter who plays hard, especially on the defensive end."

After a stellar career with the DMCI Maroons in the Winnipeg High School league, Nguyen took the next step in his development at nearby CMU, competing in the Northern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NIAC). After getting his feet wet as a freshman in 2018-19, Nguyen averaged 12.7 points per game in his sophomore year, counting a career-high 43% shooting accuracy from three-point range while averaging 26.3 minutes of court time.

"One of the things we like most about Binh is his attitude and demeanor. He is a fine young man who communicates well and is hungry for success both on and off the court," added Yurkus.

With Nguyen deep in the middle of completing his university studies, for now, the opportunity to play in the VBA will need to fit around his university's academic and basketball schedule. The VBA regular league schedule is set to tip-off in June, so Nguyen plans to finish his winter semester at CMU before flying to Vietnam in April in time for training camp with the Saigon Heat. Nguyen will return to play for CMU in September.

Canada's new CEBL professional men's basketball league has taken on a similar schedule calendar to create a professional summer development league for elite Canadian players. The CEBL schedule was created to fit into the university academic calendar to encourage talented university players to finish their university playing careers, complete degrees, while at the same time creating a pathway to move into the professional game.

"My plan is to finish five years of eligibility in university basketball and complete a Psychology degree before moving on to play professional basketball in Vietnam for as long as I can," said Nguyen. "I will be able to compete in the VBA every summer, while maintaining my amateur status for university basketball. This will put me in a great position to be retained in the future by the Heat (after I graduate)."

Added to this professional basketball opportunity, Nguyen's conversations with Yurkus have moved to include the possibility of competing for his country of birth.

"We have a very good national team program and just won our first-ever basketball medal at the 2019 Souteast Asian Games," said Yurkus. "We are already preparing for the Southeast Asian Games in 2021 and Binh is going to have a good chance to make an impression to earn a roster spot for that competition."

Nguyen's CMU head coach Scott Martin, has worked with many talented high school players during his coaching career at Sisler High School and with the Manitoba Provincial Team programs, but says the opportunity that has presented itself to Nguyen is quite unusual.

"Binh's opportunity is fairly unique for this day in age," said Martin. "I have coached and even played against several player who due to their heritage, were able to play professionally in Europe and have coached a player who moved to the PBA (Phillipines) but this is the first time I have known of an opportunity to play in Vietnam. It is great news for Binh."

Nguyen has lot is riding on this dream – from playing in the VBA to the Vietnam senior national team – but perhaps the greatest joy in this journey for the 20 year-old is the opportunity to reconnect with his home country and and the pride that playing for Vietnam this will bring to his family.

"The opportunity is super special to me," said Nguyen. "When I first talked to my parents about this they were supportive of course, but they didn't believe me! Most of my relatives are still living in Vietnam so they are shocked and really proud that I am planning to return to Vietnam to play. I haven't been back since 2015 but my family is always surprised that I can still speak our language fluently."

Nguyen is quick to point out that he has alot of work to do to get himself to a level where he is consistent in all areas of his game, but Martin believes that his young shooting guard has the most critical piece already – he loves the game and is firmly focused on getting better.

"Bihn's greatest strength is his passion for the game," added Martin. "Natural abilities can only take a player so far. Binh would live in the gym if he could! That passion can take a player like Binh a long way."





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