Cambodian basketball star Oeun Sopouen has joined the Saigon Heat ahead of their inaugural participation in the AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) next year. The Vietnamese franchise snapped up the 26-year-old point guard following his scintillating performance at the SEA Games in Indonesia, where Cambodia finished a disappointing seventh out of eight nations.
He was the Kingdom’s top scorer in all but one of their 12 games in Jakarta.
Cambodia had faced the Saigon side in a pre-SEA Games friendly double header at Olympic Stadium, which ended with one win a piece, before taking part in the China-ASEAN Invitational tournament in Nanning City, Guangxi province. They won three games and lost three to finish seventh in the nine-team international event.
Oeun Sopouen, who hails from Fresno, California, has been in action already for the Heat at the four-day long ‘To Be Number One Basketball Challenge’ held in Bangkok last week. The event, held at the Nimibutr Stadium in order to raise money for Thailand’s flood victims and featuring six of the eight teams to be involved in the 2012 ABL, saw Saigon suffer losses in all three of their games. Fellow league newcomers San Miguel Beermen of the Philippines captured the title on Sunday.
The ABL will launch its third season on January 14. Defending champions, Chang Thailand Slammers, will once again face off against AirAsia Philippine Patriots, Westports Malaysia Dragons, Singapore Slingers and Indonesia Warriors, while Saigon Heat, San Miguel Beermen and Bangkok Cobras join the fray this year for the coveted title.
Negotiations are currently ongoing between Oeun Sopouen’s Cambodian team-mate Mith Pek and the Indonesia Warriors of Jakarta. Mith Pek met with club owner Erick Thohir and coach Todd Purves following the conclusion of the SEA Games, with the prospect of the 26-year-old joining the Jakarta-based side for the 2012 ABL campaign discussed.
“We saw Pek’s displays during the SEA games and feel he will be a good addition to the team,” said Purves. “I am looking at him being a good point guard for the team in the next season. His ball handling is quite impressive and hopefully he can be a good acquisition for us.”
Meanwhile, Indonesian media mogul and president of the South East Asian Basketball Association, Erick Thohir, who also became part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in October, revealed that the idea behind extending invitations to Cambodian players was to spread the sport’s popularity across the region with the hope of having a Cambodian team playing in the ABL in the near future.
“We have eight teams from five countries already in the ABL and will like more countries to be involved. But where they cannot send a team, we would be happy to give their players opportunity to play in the ABL with other teams,” said Thohir.
Swedish-born Thach Boroth’s talks with Chinese team Guangxi fell through after the club failed to match the 29-year-old’s asking price for salary. “They indicated interest in me but what they are willing to offer did not match my expectation, hence I decided to return to Sweden,” said Thach Boroth.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAN RILEY