With Cambodia set to host the SEA Games in 2023, the Cambodia Basketball Federation is aggressively investing in its youth developmental program in hopes of deepening its talent pool. As it stands currently, Cambodia has never medaled before in SEA Games men’s basketball competitions, with the nation placing in sixth and seventh during the two most recent Games in 2015 and 2013 respectively. Heading into this year’s tournament, the weight will be heavily carried by recruited Cambodian-Americans who have “been there” before.

Though Cambodia’s projected starters have an average age of 30, with Cambodian-American Dominick Anthony Dar being the youngest starter at age 23, the close-knit group of players have been in the Cambodian basketball international scene for quite some time and will delve on their experience from battles previously fought together which includes SEA Games competitions.

“The core of the players have been around for the past two to three SEA Games. We only added a few players to the roster,” says Austin Koledoye, Cambodia’s head coach. Since taking over the job, coach Koledoye has been in pursuit of overseas recruits while homegrown talent is being groomed and nurtured. “We are always in search of Cambodian players from around the world. We ask around and after viewing playing tapes and tryouts, we make a selection.”

For the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, the pressure is on for the team to further pave the way in hopes of putting Cambodia’s national basketball program amongst the best in the Southeast Asian region. “The expectation is to perform better than from previous results. Our major goal is to qualify from our group,” Koledoye says about tournament expectations. “We are not underrating any team. We will just see as it goes.”

A glaring issue for the Cambodians and head coach Austin Koledoye is the lack of a natural center. With that, the team puts a premium on rebounding at both ends of the floor and protecting the glass, all the while keeping turnovers to a minimum and maintaining a good field goal percentage. The tasks may sound daunting for a team whose tallest player is only 195 cm, but Koledoye remains optimistic and confident.

“These guys have a close bonding. They have been playing together for so long and their love of playing for their nation overrides any personal interests. Cambodia is now a competitor in the SEA Games and not just merely adding to the numbers which we have been able to prove from prior SEA Games.”

   2017 SEA GAMES ROSTER

Head Coach, Austin Koledoye

Small Forward/Power Forward, Daniel Meas (180 cm, 85 kg)

Power Forward/Center, Tommy Chea (183 cm, 75 kg)

Small Forward, Patof Khvan (155 cm, 70 kg)

Small Forward, Sophany Phon (165 cm, 78 kg)

Center, Sophoeun Sop Oeun (195 cm, 92 kg)

Point Guard, Dominic Anthony Dar (167 cm, 72 kg)

Small Forward, Dararithy Pheng (182 cm, 68 kg)

Power Forward, Pichbounchour Hour (185 cm, 94 kg)

Small Forward, William Em (178 cm, 82 kg)

Shooting Guard, Vannak Som (178 cm, 75 kg)

Power Forward/Center, Pek Mith (185 cm, 83 kg)

Point Guard/Shooting Guard, Sopheen Toun (178 cm, 83 kg)

   PROJECTED STARTERS

1. Dominic Anthony Dar (PG) – 167 cm

Lowell, Massachusetts

PHOTO CREDIT: MADGOAT BASKETBALL CLUB

Dominic Anthony Dar is the youngest of the five starters, however, his international basketball resume includes previous stints on Cambodia’s National Team at the 2015 SEA Games in Kallang, Singapore as well as the 2013 SEA Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. Dar also possesses professional experience playing for Madgoat Basketball Club from the Thailand Basketball League. His young legs at the point guard position will play a pivotal role if Cambodia is to advance into the knockout stages.

 

2. SOPHEEN TOUN (SG) – 178 CM

Providence, Rhode Island

PHOTO CREDIT: GADAFFI

In achieving Head Coach Koledoye’s team goal of maintaining a good field goal percentage, shooting guard Sopheen Toun is expected to see heavy minutes as a true scoring threat. The first Cambodian-American to suit up for the Cambodian National Team and its longest tenured player, Toun also played Division II NCAA ball at Stonehill College before making his move abroad. As a testament to his scoring touch, Sopheen had a 23 point performance that saw him make seven three-pointers against Myanmar at the 2015 SEA Games.

 

3. WILLIAM EM (SF) – 178 CM

Tewksbury, Massachusetts

PHOTO CREDIT: GADAFFI

This will be the 33 year old Em’s second go as a member of the Cambodian National Team after making his debut at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. Though William is slotted as the starting small forward of the team, he will be counted on more in the rebounding department and defensive side of the ball.

 

4. PEK MITH (PF) – 185 CM

Lowell, Massachusetts

PHOTO CREDIT: GADAFFI

One of the unquestioned leaders on the team, Pek Mith is also the second longest tenured Cambodian-American on the team with Sophoeun Oeun, having made his debut for the Cambodian National Team at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia. A player that possesses above average ball-handling, look for him to also share some ball handling duties during the course of the tournament.

 

5. SOPHOEUN SOP OEUN (C) – 195 CM

Fresno, California

Another player that can really put the ball through the basket for the Cambodian side, the 31 year old Sophoeun Oeun, or more commonly referred to as “Sop,” is the tallest member on the roster and would naturally garner the center position on the team, though his game is not nearly indicative of a traditional big. Oeun has international experience playing for Cambodia since the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia as well as professional experience as a player for the Saigon Heat in the ASEAN Basketball League back in 2012.

   2017 SEA GAMES SCHEDULE

14:45 Sunday, August 20 vs Singapore @ MABA Stadium

09:00 Monday, August 21 vs Vietnam @ MABA Stadium

09:00 Tuesday, August 22 vs Laos @ MABA Stadium

15:45 Wednesday, August 23 vs Indonesia @ MABA Stadium

   NOTABLE MATCHUPS

Sunday, August 20th vs Singapore

PHOTO CREDIT: ACTIVESG

The Cambodian side will have to be ready to perform from the get-go when they open up their tournament against a Singaporean side that is loaded with professional level nationals by way of the Singapore Slingers in the ASEAN Basketball League. A win here would put tremendous pressure on all teams not named Indonesia in Group B and could put the Cambodia Men’s Basketball team into the driver’s seat to make it out of the group.

Monday, August 21st vs Vietnam

PHOTO CREDIT: FIBA BASKETBALL

Two big games in a row against competition that is expected to be vying for the second spot in Group B is a tall task for any team, but the experience advantage for the Cambodians could be the difference maker here. Although Vietnam will be featuring three overseas-born players that are amongst the best players in the Vietnamese Basketball Association, those three players will also be making their international debuts. Both teams match up pretty evenly in terms of height and the loser of this game would see their chances of making it out of the group drop drastically.

   TOURNAMENT PROJECTION

The Cambodians couldn’t have asked for a better draw. Sure they’ll have to play one additional game, but they’ll avoid a group stage clash against the Philippines and Thailand. In a very manageable group to get out of, the veteran team can delve on experience and familiarity with one another for a strong push into the knockout rounds.

Indonesia is likely to win the group, however, it’s a toss-up as to who will claim the second spot in Group B. If the Cambodian team can come out on top in their opening matchup against Singapore, they’ll have a great shot at making it out. Given the age of the Cambodian National team’s core, this could be the final SEA Games for many so look for them to play with additional motivation at an attempt to medal for the first time.