By Harry Hodge
Not many professional basketball coaches guide a team to a league title, and then bolt to lead a new franchise on the other side of the planet.
But Kyle Julius is not like most coaches.
Hot on the heels of steering the London Lightning to a National Basketball League (NBL) Canada title, Julius hopped a plane to fill the bench boss role for the Saigon Heat of the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), recently vacated by Great Britain national team coach Tony Garbelotto. Julius, whose father is a coach as well, has picked up a wealth of knowledge about the game from his time playing in the NCAA and Europe, as well as on the Canadian men’s national team under Leo Rautins and current Phoenix Suns coach Jay Triano.
“I knew that a whole new challenge would be healthy for my career at this point,” said Julius, who looks like he could still jump out on the floor and start shooting. “I knew coming to Vietnam would be a tremendous challenge for me, but it would be very rewarding.
“I want to make the fans proud.”
Julius has inherited a team that has made the playoffs in consecutive years, but failed to win a postseason game in the franchise’s short history. He said Moses Morgan looks to have endless potential, as well as the impending announcement of a returning David Arnold. But he’s also made some bold moves so far, waiving leading scorer and fan favourite Lenny Daniel as well as former ABL MVP Christien Charles. He’s recruited Jamaican national team member Akeem Scott, having become acquainted with the guard during his time in London.
And while he acknowledged that fans would certainly be disappointed to learn of Daniel’s departure, Julius says Scott will be a fan favourite “by the end of the first quarter.”
“He’s been an all-star all over the world,” he said, bullish on signing Scott in time for the ABL season. “Akeem Scott is the toughest and best leader I’ve ever been around.
“He’ll embody what we want to do as an organization. Everywhere he goes, he wins.”
While Charles was a signing that backfired for the Heat, leading to a carousel of big men to occupy his position during a season plagued with injuries, Daniel’s release raised some eyebrows for longtime Heat fans. And Julius said another major signing is in the works, which with Charles’ departure one could surely surmise will be an import big man before ABL rosters are announced this Friday.
He also arrived in Vietnam knowing that while the Heat has some of the most passionate fans in the league, they’re growing restless with the team’s perennial first round flameouts when the regular season ends. Julius said they can expect an open, up-tempo team, characteristic of the squads he built in London that led the NBL in scoring during his time there. As for the league, he said it was definitely true to say that teams would go as far as their depth would take them. To this end, he identified members of the VBA Heat like Huynh Hai and Ngoc Tu as players that have bright futures ahead of them.
“This is a league based on how good your locals are,” he said, noting the local talent Hong Kong brought in their title run last year. “(But) I do think there’s a fair amount of parity too.”
We’ll see how it all shakes out for this new version of the Heat as they tip off the ABL season Dec. 9 at CIS Stadium in District 7.