Harvard University doesn’t typically produce first round draft picks for any sporting league, but then again Christian Juzang is no typical Harvard graduate.
The Vietnamese-American was picked first overall in the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA)’s 2020 draft in May by the Saigon Heat, making him likely the first Harvard athlete to ever be selected number one overall in any professional sports league.
The last time a Crimson player even went in the top three in the 1948 Basketball Association of America (a precursor to the NBA) draft, George Hauptfuhrer decided he was better off becoming a lawyer than playing professional sport. Such are the choices of the gifted.
So, with the world his oyster, why is Juzang choosing to hitch his wagon to the fledgling Vietnamese basketball league?
|Christian Juzang competing for the Harvard Crimson. Photo toquoc.vn|
“Essentially for me, I’m coming home to some degree,” Juzang told Việt Nam News from his family home on the West Coast of the US, where he awaits the end of Vietnam’s ban on entry due to the coronavirus pandemic to join his new team.
In four years at the prestigious institution in Massachusetts State, Juzang helped lead the Crimson to back-to-back Ivy League Championships in 2018 and 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic cut short his senior year in March.
Juzang’s mother moved to the US from Vietnam as a young child and the young point guard has had a long-term return to his ancestral homeland on his mind since a trip to HCM City in the summer of 2018.
“I think that on and off the court it’s a really cool opportunity for me to get over there so I’m happy that things kind of aligned so I’m able to come to HCM City and play for my home country,” the sociology major said.
While moving from the highest level of collegiate basketball in the US to the four-year-old Vietnamese league may be a step down in competition, Juzang is still raring to go.
“The VBA is an exciting league. I think obviously it’s not like on a global scale one of the more renowned leagues but I will say that the fan energy is amazing,” he said, before adding, “I think if I can heighten the play over there and give us a shot to really compete on a global stage, that’s the whole goal of me coming over there and hopefully I’m a positive impact on the league.”
Part of heightening the play could be increasing the confidence of all the league’s players, which Juzang brought up when asked about comparisons with fellow Vietnamese-American point guard Khoa Tran in local media.
“He’s (Khoa) a good player and he believes in himself.
“I kind of want all the players in the league to get that confidence because at the end of the day, if they do that makes us all the more versatile and potent when we go against other countries and play on a global stage.”
One of Juzang’s goals is to play for the national team someday, but he has even bigger dreams off the court.
|The point guard is expected to make an immediate impact for the Saigon Heat. Photo toquoc.vn|
Time to inspire
The young man, who’s already an idol for his younger brother Johnny, who looks set to become the first Vietnamese-American NBA draft pick, is hoping to inspire kids in Vietnam.
“I could have played somewhere else if I wanted to now but I really wanted to come to Vietnam and yeah I’m not planning on leaving, so I really do want to build a brand, build a following in Vietnam and leave an impact,” he said.
“The Harvard badge is already something that I hope can kind of permeate throughout the country and show some of the younger kids that they can do that.
“And then to come back and play in the league and give them something that’s tangible like they’re watching me play, right there in front of them.
“I think that means a lot, so that’s really big for me,” he added. VNS
Following their first Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) League championship this year, the Saigon Heat are eager to conquer the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) 2019-20.