Master ensures small town punches above its weight in basketball

By Dennis Khng   November 4, 2019 | 08:46 pm PT
Master ensures small town punches above its weight in basketball
Coach Nguyen Quang Minh (bottom right) and his protégé Pham Thi Thanh Thuy (top row, C) pose with their basketball club in Phan Rang, central Vietnam, October 2019. Photo by Dennis Khng.
If you think of sports or sports talent, big cities come to mind with their large populations and sporting facilities.

Surprisingly, Phan Rang, a small town on Vietnam's south-central coast, seems to have got into this mix.

The place, with a population of 91,500 and known more for fish sauce, lovely landscapes and delicious seafood, has produced two national basketballers, one of whom went on to become the national coach, and many top coaches.

What is the secret behind it becoming a basketball hotspot? Nguyen Quang Minh.

Growing up in Phan Rang, the 51-year old basketball legend loved and excelled in sports from a young age. He was playing basketball in his youth but that was not his first love.

"I initially wanted to build a career as a table tennis player, and studied table tennis at university in Ho Chi Minh City to realize my goals," he says.

"During my years there I started playing basketball more intensively as I had many classmates who loved playing it. I soon discovered a passion for it, developed my skills and sought to play professionally."

After graduation he started playing for Ho Chi Minh City from 1990. Soon he made it to the Vietnam men's basketball team and played for them from 1992 to 1998.

In 2001 he was appointed head coach of the national women's team for the SEA Games. Minh also played professionally for Ninh Thuan Province from 1987 to 2002.

Armed with five years' experience as a professional basketballer in Ho Chi Minh City, he moved back to his hometown in 1994. Phan Rang needed a coach to raise basketball standards and his family wanted him to come back.

Basketball roots

Former coach Nguyen Quoc Toan, who hails from Phan Rang and is now back working as a tourism entrepreneur, said basketball is popular in Phan Rang because the town has a large number of Chinese-Vietnamese who play the sport, and Chinese and American coaches who visited during World War II helping popularize the game.

Toan has coached District 4 (U16 and other age groups) and Thu Duc District (U14) in HCMC and was a student under Minh.

On a more pragmatic note, Minh points out that because Phan Rang did not have many gyms when he was growing up, basketball was a popular substitute for people looking to exercise since it works out the whole body and tones the physique.

Minh plied his craft back home as a coach for various schools. With his friendliness, work ethic and conviction, he has influenced many players to develop a career in basketball.

His novel Phan Rang beach tactics also help.

"I include beach training when players are preparing for a tournament. They practice passing. Playing on such uneven underfoot conditions strengthens their legs and enables them to move faster. When they play back on a court, they can see the difference."


Of Minh's many Phan Rang players who are making a career out of basketball, two famous protégés are Phan Thanh Canh and Pham Thi Thanh Thuy. Canh is an assistant coach of the Vietnam men's team at the 2019 SEA Games to be held in the Philippines this month.

He was also an assistant coach at the 2015 and 2016 SEA Games and head coach of the U18 Vietnam men's team.

Perhaps more famously, he was assistant coach of the professional basketball team Saigon Heat from 2015 to 2018, and is currently the head coach of Danang Dragons, the first Vietnamese coach in the Vietnam Basketball Association.

Canh is a graduate of the University of Sports, Ho Chi Minh City, and is currently a teacher there.

Thuy is also an alumna of the university, graduating in 2011. Playing for the Ho Chi Minh women's team since 2011, she has been called up to the national squad in 2015 and 2017, and has been playing for Quang Ninh Province since 2018. A career highlight for her was playing in the 28th edition of the SEA Games in Singapore in 2015.

She said Minh was a large influence on her. "I met him when I was 15. He was my first coach and was very friendly, inspirational and hard working."

After playing around the country during her illustrious career, she has returned to Phan Rang to develop basketball in town, coaching at the Culture, Sports and Communications Center.

"I especially want to teach children basketball, and get them to enjoy the sport."

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