By Harry Hodge
“This is my team!” Not something you expect to hear from a visiting player on the opposing team’s home floor. But this was no ordinary game for Lenny Daniel.
The former Saigon Heat team MVP was in unfamiliar territory, dressed in the white-and-black of Taiwan’s Formosa Dreamers as the opponent for his former team’s home opener. Ahead by as much as 15 in the third quarter, the uptempo Heat were running roughshod over the Taiwanese ABL expansion team. But Daniel’s 22-point effort, including two final free throws in the dying seconds of an 80-75 Formosa win, had to feel sweet against the team that cast him aside.
“This game meant a lot to me, just to win,” he said. “I don’t like beating the Heat, I care about (my former teammates) so much.
“My emotion got the better of me. It was more against one person… He knows who he is.”
Reading between the lines, it seemed a pointed comment at new Heat head coach Kyle Julius, who elected to let Daniel go in a monster house-cleaning as he instituted his new regime. The prime asset the Canadian bench boss brought in was Akeem Scott, and the American didn’t disappoint in his Vietnam debut. An endless motor saw him darting up and down the court before a befuddled Formosa squad, leading all scorers with 29 points before fouling out with just under four minutes remaining.
This was a turning point for the Heat, who at the time were down 75-73 and also without starter Moses Morgan, who left for the locker room with an injury undisclosed as of press time. Credit for putting the game within reach has to go to Formosa’s Cheng Chi Kuan, who scored back-to-back three-point bombs after Morgan departed.
“It’s just next man up,” said Swedish-Vietnamese Heat star Stefan Nguyen of the losses of Morgan and Scott. “Their locals stepped up.
“I think we controlled (Daniel) pretty well, but we all know how good he is. It could have gone either way.”
The loss leaves a bittersweet feeling for home fans who had been waiting the better part of eight months for ABL action. Some new wrinkles, apart from the revamped lineup, included the bleachers behind the east basket being removed for a “lounge” area for premium ticket-holders. The Heat were also sporting snazzy new uniforms with silver highlights.
Heat owner Henry Nguyen was excited about this latest ABL season, with new teams in China, Indonesia and Thailand in the mix. Nguyen, who’s also steering a new Major League Soccer franchise in Los Angeles, was bullish on new hire Julius, despite the season-opening loss.
“Every coach has their own style,” he said. “He’s tailored the offence to the players he has. We have a clear style, pace and space.”
The Heat will have a week to think about what went wrong; they’ll be back in action Dec. 17 at CIS Stadium in District 7 against Thailand’s Mono Vampire.
THE POINT AFTER: Former ABL MVP Christien Charles, who dealt with numerous injuries last season with the Heat, was in the stands at Saturday’s game. He confirmed he’s practising with the Heat, despite not being signed to the team, and is awaiting an offer from elsewhere in the league. Also spotted sporting Can Tho Catfish gear was Heat prospect Tam Dinh, attending the game with his brother Sang shortly after playing in the VBA Finals. Dinh said he’ll spend the holidays in the United States and join the Heat in January.