It’s not often that someone can say they achieved their dream job directly after graduating college. It’s also not often that the same person would turn down the opportunity to play the sport they love professionally to achieve that dream. But for one Springfield alumnus, that is exactly what they have been able to accomplish, all before their 23rd birthday.
Khang Bui Thinh, or Kenny Bui, as he goes by in America, grew up almost 9,000 miles away from Springfield College in Ho Chi Minh City – the largest city in Vietnam. It was there that he discovered a passion that would alter the path of his future.
That passion was basketball.
When coming across the sport in sixth grade, Bui was hooked. He developed a love for the game that turned into a lifestyle. He dedicated as much time as he could to working on his craft, trying to get better and be the best version of himself on the court.
Bui continued to play throughout highschool, but by time he got to his final year, he found that it may have been the end of playing days; at least at a competitive level.
But instead of hanging his head, Bui saw this as an opportunity to move in a slightly different direction, that being coaching. He wanted to help those who were just like him growing up.
“I’ve always wanted to help players’ confidence, because as a kid, I didn’t have that much confidence when I played,” Bui said. “I had to train a lot to gain that confidence. I want to help others get to that point where they can play with confidence”
With some help from his advisor, Bui found a school that he liked, where he could pursue what he wanted to do.
“When I was looking at Springfield College, I really liked the Movement and Sports Studies major, and I could get a minor in Coaching,” Bui said. “I didn’t even apply anywhere else.”
When Bui made the long journey to the U.S. in the fall of 2018, he didn’t know that he was coming to the birthplace of the sport he loves so much. He also didn’t know how important the game would be to helping him adjust to his new life.
“Basketball just helped me trade off relationships and friendships,” Bui said. “I actually didn’t know anyone until I played (pickup) basketball at Springfield – it was the first way that I found my friends there.”
It was those very friendships Bui built that helped him later on. Because he was so far from home, he was unable to travel back and forth during holidays and campus breaks. But instead of staying isolated in his dorm room, Bui had the opportunity to stay with his new friends.
“Luckily, I would have my friends ask me to go to their house for breaks,” Bui said. “I would visit either one of my friends out in Long Island or New Jersey, which is something really cool because I get to see different places. To be able to visit their family and enjoy a break, and celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, made me feel like I was home.”
Just when it seemed that he was getting fully adjusted to life in the U.S., life threw him a curveball, coming in pandemic form. Bui had to return home, and continue his college education online.
But once again, instead of being impacted by this negative situation, he turned it into a positive. Once getting back to Vietnam, he decided to complete his required internship, and had the opportunity to do so with AP3 Basketball, a training program in his home city.
“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 that paperwork back to my professors,” Bui said. “I also got lucky as I did my internship, because I was really like a full time coach.”
Remarkably, Bui stumbled into getting an internship doing the very thing he was trying to find a career in. What came next, however, he would have never predicted: being signed to a professional basketball team.
Although he may have stopped playing competitively, Bui’s work ethic never disappeared. He was playing pickup all the time at Springfield College, and when he wasn’t playing games, he was doing drills to get better. All of that hard work paid off in the fall of 2020, when he got signed by his hometown team, the Saigon Heat.
The Saigon Heat are a part of the Vietnamese Basketball Association (VBA), a league that was founded in 2016. The league is made up of seven total teams; where they build their 13-16-man rosters with each team allowed one foreign player, two Overseas Vietnamese, and 10-13 local players. Bui fit the requirement of being amongst the local players.
But after just one season in the league, and COVID restrictions beginning to lift, Bui knew that what was best for him was to return to Springfield for his senior year to pursue a career in coaching.
When he returned to the U.S., it was clear that Bui was heading in the right direction – he was going into the best possible career for him. This was best exemplified in the spring of his senior year, where he found the time to help out a first-year student try and reach his goal of making the campus’ men’s basketball team; even though Bui himself had little time on his hands due to being the men’s lacrosse team manager.
“[Bui] really wanted to see me make the team,” Andrew Soron, the then first-year student Bui trained, said.
Bui would take Soron through a series of shooting and dribbling drills – trying to progress Soron’s catch-and-shoot and ball-handling abilities – so that he could have the skills required to play at the collegiate level.
After graduating this past spring, Bui can be seen applying those same skills back home in Vietnam, where he is coaching at the IN’N’OUT Basketball Academy.
“The age group is around from under 15 to college players, and we focus on improving skills,” Bui said. “Most of the training is one-on-one, two-on-one, training. It’s less game-like, the way most teams practice. We work from all types of skill sets, just going from the most basic to advanced skills.”
Along with coaching at the academy, Bui is also coaching at an international school, with students 13-years-old and younger.
On top of all of that, Bui is still technically a student at Springfield College, where he is getting his Masters in Sports Exercise Psychology as an online student.
“My first initial thought when I got back to Vietnam was that I didn’t see a lot of sports and psychology jobs or anything about it, like no one talks about it,” Bui said. “I feel like having something that is unique is really important. If you have something attached to your coaching resume like a Masters in Sport and Exercise psychology, I feel like people would be interested and want to look for me.”
Once obtaining that masters degree, Bui wants to progress from being just a coach, to coaching his own brand.
“Down the line, I’m trying to save up some money to make a court and build my own brand. I want to make my own academy, and then try to teach people the same thing as I’m teaching right now,” he said
Also potentially down the line, Bui may look into returning to the VBA. But only if it is for the right price.
“I talked to my friends about [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 salary,” Bui joked.
Photo Courtesy of Kenny Bui