Vietnam-born Kenny Bui’s journey from Springfield to basketball academy coach
It’s not often that you can say right after your studies that you’ve landed your dream job. It’s also not often that the same person turns down the opportunity to play the sport they love professionally in order to make that dream come true. But for a Springfield alumnus, that’s exactly what they were able to achieve before their 23rd birthday.
Khang Bui Thinh, or Kenny Bui as he is known in America, grew up almost 9,000 miles from Springfield College in Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam’s largest city. There he discovered a passion that would change the path of his future.
That passion was basketball.
When Bui discovered the sport in sixth grade, he was hooked. He developed a love for the game that grew into a lifestyle. He devoted as much time as possible to working on his craft and trying to get better and be the best version of himself on the pitch.
Bui continued to play throughout high school, but by the time he entered his senior year, he realized that this might be the end of his playing days. at least at competitive level.
But instead of hanging his head, Bui saw this as an opportunity to move in a slightly different direction, namely coaching. He wanted to help those just like him grow up.
“I’ve always wanted to boost players’ confidence because when I was a kid I didn’t have that much confidence when I was playing,” said Bui. “I had to train a lot to gain that confidence. I want to help others get to the point where they can play with confidence.”
With some help from his advisor, Bui found a school he liked where he could pursue what he wanted.
“When I looked at Springfield College, I really liked the Movement and Sports Studies major and I could get a minor in coaching,” Bui said. “I haven’t applied anywhere else.”
When Bui embarked on the long journey to the United States in the fall of 2018, little did he know he was coming to the birthplace of the sport he loves so much. Little did he know how important the game would be in helping him adjust to his new life.
“Basketball just helped me balance relationships and friendships,” Bui said. “Actually, I didn’t know anyone until I played (pickup) basketball in Springfield — that was the first way I made friends there.”
It was these very friendships that Bui built that helped him later. Being so far from home meant he couldn’t travel back and forth during vacations and campus vacations. But instead of staying isolated in his dorm room, Bui was given the option to stay with his new friends.
“Fortunately, my friends would ask me to go to their house for breaks,” Bui said. “I would either visit one of my friends in Long Island or New Jersey, which is really cool because I get to see different places. Being able to visit her family and enjoy a break and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas made me feel at home.”
Just when it looked like he was fully adjusting to life in the US, life threw him a curveball and went into pandemic form. Bui had to return home and continue his college education online.
But again, instead of letting this negative situation affect him, he turned it into a positive one. Upon returning to Vietnam, he decided to complete his mandatory internship and had the opportunity to do so at AP3 Basketball, a training program in his hometown.
“Because during COVID [traveling rules] in the US I couldn’t come back for a year. So I decided to do my internship here and send all the paperwork back to my professors,” Bui said. “I also got lucky when I did my internship because I was really like a full-time coach.”
Remarkably, Bui stumbled upon an internship doing exactly what he wanted to pursue as a career. However, he never could have predicted what came next: he was signed to a professional basketball team.
Although he may have stopped playing competitively, Bui’s work ethic never waned. At Springfield College he played pickup all the time, and when he wasn’t playing games he was doing drills to get better. All that hard work paid off in the fall of 2020 when he was signed by his hometown team, the Saigon Heat.
The Saigon Heat are part of the Vietnamese Basketball Association (VBA), a league founded in 2016. The league consists of a total of seven teams; where they build their 13-16 man rosters, with each team allowing one foreign player, two overseas Vietnamese and 10-13 local players. Bui meets the requirement of being a local player.
But after just one season in the league and the gradual lifting of COVID restrictions, Bui knew it was best for him to return to Springfield for his senior year to pursue a coaching career.
When he returned to the US, it was clear that Bui was on the right path – he was going into the best possible career for him. This was best illustrated in the spring of his senior year when he found time to help a freshman achieve his goal of making the campus men’s basketball team. although Bui himself had little time as he was the manager of the men’s lacrosse team.
“[Bui] really wanted to see how I did the team,” said Andrew Soron, the then freshman whom Bui coached.
Bui guided Soron through a series of shooting and dribbling drills — in an attempt to improve Soron’s catch-and-shoot and ball-handling skills — so he had the skills needed to play at the collegiate level.
After graduating last spring, Bui can be seen applying the same skills back home in Vietnam, where he trains at IN’N’OUT Basketball Academy.
“The age group ranges from under 15 to college players and we’re focused on improving our skills,” Bui said. “Most training is one-on-one, two-on-one training. It’s less playful how most teams train. We work with all types of skills, from the most basic to advanced.”
In addition to coaching at the academy, Bui also teaches at an international school with students aged 13 and under.
Additionally, Bui is technically still a student at Springfield College, where he is an online student pursuing his Masters in Exercise Psychology.
“My first first thought when I came back to Vietnam was that I didn’t see a lot of sports and psychology jobs or anything about it because nobody talks about it,” Bui said. “I feel like it’s really important to have something unique. If you add something to your coaching resume, such as: a Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology, I feel like people are interested and want to look for me.
Once he earns that master’s degree, Bui wants to go from just a coach to coaching his own brand.
“Bottom line I’m trying to save some money to build a place and build my own brand. I want to start my own academy and then try to teach people the same thing I’m teaching right now,” he said
Bui may also try to go back to VBA. But only if it’s for the right price.
“I’ve talked to my friends about it [returning]. And they all wanted me to come back and play, but it depends on the salary,” Bui said.
“I can’t just accept a minimum wage,” Bui joked.
Photo courtesy of Kenny Bui