Point guard for the Saigon Heat, Froilan Baguion opens up about the Philippines, family and basketball
“I used to sneak out of my house in the afternoon to go play ball while I should have been sleeping like my mother told me to,” shares Froilan Baguion, Saigon Heat’s Filipino point guard. Born in 1980 in Metro Manila, he started playing as early as six-years-old and calls basketball an addiction that would define his life and career.
Basketball was Froilan’s ticket to college because his family was too poor to pay tuition fees. Resigned to working right after high school to support his family, everything changed when he met the coach of a college basketball team, Manny Fandango and later on Rico Perez. These guys laid the foundation for his professional basketball skills and passed on the principles of a good basketball game.
“It’s not how you play the game. It’s how you finish the game,” Froilan recalls the advice he received from them. The fourth and last quarter of the game is the most vital one. A team can win the first three and then lose during the last quarter because stamina is ebbing, fatigue rising and the wrong tactical decisions are made.
His skills eventually earned a two-year college scholarship playing for the Philippine National University Bulldogs and a professional league spot under the Welcoat Dragons. However, it was in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) where he garnered international fame, winning his first ABL crown under the Philippine Patriots and then by touring the next five years with the San Miguel Beermen and the Chang Thailand Slammers. Froilan is one of the Philippines’ pure point guards. A great pass-first point guard, he leads the ASEAN Basketball League in assists. He is one of the few remaining pass-first point guards in the Philippines.
In an interview that appeared on the ASEAN Basketball League website, Froilan’s coach at the time Joe Bryant (father of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant) said: “Froilan has the kind of skills of Chris Paul and Steve Nash. He has a great leadership skill in him and has made my job a lot easier. Sometimes as a coach you have to stand up offensively and tell your player to do this and do that. But Froilan has a great feel for the game and communicates with all the players so it really makes the job easier on offense.”
“My entrance into the Saigon Heat was pretty uneventful,” he says. “My coach talked to me one day, and then I met Mr. Michael from Saigon Heat. And they asked me, ‘How would you like to come play for this young Vietnamese team that just started a couple years ago?’”
Froilan’s answer came easily. “People may think that I came to play for the Saigon Heat because they pay better, but that’s not true,” he explains. “They pay about the same. But in the Philippines, I can get paid five, six grand a month and sit on a bench to watch players I know are not as good as me on the court simply because they know someone I don’t. The choice then for me was either stay in the Philippines, sit around and do nothing and still get paid top dollar or go to other countries where the sport is still young and honest and show the world what I’ve got. It really was no choice at all.”
For his family, however, the decision was more difficult. “My wife and I argued. She worries about me. I’m here and she’s in the Philippines and she doesn’t know how I’m doing and if I’m OK. And then there are my kids and I can’t bring them over… yet.”
He joined the Saigon Heat earlier this year in a team consisting of six Vietnamese, two Americans, two Filipinos and one Viet Kieu. Saigon Heat was formed in 2010 and officially participated in the ABL in 2011 so recruiting seasoned players locally, then and now, has been difficult, sometimes causing friction between local and foreign players.
“The Vietnamese players do not lack for talent, that I can tell you,” says Froilan. “But if I can describe them by one word, it would be ‘young’. On the other hand, I’ve been where they are. Most of the time, I just think I’ve gotta help them out. I’m the experienced one. I have to show them what I know, and that’s it. I would say that in the ABL, they [Saigon Heat] are the best.
“I’ve seen the Vietnamese crowd in my previous tours since the Patriots. It’s funny. Vietnamese basketball is so young, but the crowd is amazing. There is a sense of purity in the Vietnamese fans’ love for basketball. Filipinos love basketball just as much of course, and there are more basketball fans in the Philippines, but whenever a sport grows too strong eventually it’s no longer just about the game anymore. Other things start coming into the equation – money, politics, gambling.”
For Froilan, he’s just enjoying the love of the game, wherever it takes him.
Images by Ngoc Tran