This was supposed to be a heart-lifting article about how the Saigon Heat got a win in a must win game before going out for a long road trip. It was supposed to be about the hot shooting of Leo Avenido and how it overcame the inside dominance of Michael Fey.
Yet, here I am on the night of Monday, September 22 2014, scrolling through Facebook, passing black and white picture after black and white picture as a tribute to the Saigon Heat Coach Jason Rabedeaux who had passed away earlier in the day.
Coach Rab probably doesn’t know me, but I guess if we would have passed each other along the street we would have been able to exchange a nod of approval.
I first met Coach Rab when I was going out on my first motorcycle ride in Vietnam. I was going to join in on a group of expats who gathered to play basketball at different courts around Ho Chi Minh City. So I made my way to the International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) for what would seem like forever. I made my way up to the gym only to find Coach Rab getting his Saigon Heat D-Team through their shoot arounds. I had no idea who the D-Team was or who Coach Rab was at that time, but I supposed that I was just early and these guys would be wrapping up their practice soon.
As I changed into my shoes, I was drawn bit by bit to what the Coach (who resembled a cuddly bear more than a basketball coach) had to say. He kept repeating over and over as the players shot away to not worry about the misses. He told them to keep their mind on their shooting form.
Coach Rab would stop a player directly after a shot if he saw that they were shooting out of form or even if he felt the tiniest bit of detail was out of order. He would cheer on players during a hot streak and encourage them during cold streaks. I was about to tie up my shoe laces before David Arnold walked by and I asked him when they were going to finish practice because I had a schedule to play next.
The plot twist here is that I misread the calendar, so the schedule to play at ISHCMC was actually the day after so you can imagine how screwed up I felt when David told me that I might be at the wrong place.
I could have left right then and there in disappointment, but it had been an hour and a half drive from home. Also, this team looked really interesting. Eventually, the team finished out the shoot around and started warming down. I approached Coach Rab and asked him about the team as in who they were.
I can still picture the passion that shined in his eyes that day as he talked a bit about the Saigon Heat as a team, and as he introduced some of the players. He radiated of enthusiasm for the development of his players and was fired up for the upcoming domestic tournament the team was going to be attending in a week.
Since that day, I had been hooked to the Saigon Heat and have been following the whereabouts of the team which has opened a whole new world for me.
And that was the first time I met Coach Rab.
I had made my way to my first Saigon Heat home game and my season tickets were right around the Saigon Heat bench. Being in that first row, having a big guy like Coach Rab roaming the baseline does block out a lot of what you are able to see. Nonetheless, watching Coach Rab on the sidelines was plenty of entertainment on his own.
As much fun as it is watching Assistant Coach Tony getting enraged at almost every call the refs missed or made, it was as fun watching Coach Rab calming him down or talking to the refs calmly to make a case.
If there were free throws on the other side of the court, Coach Rab would sometimes call Froilan Baguion (who he would call Bags) up to refresh the game plan and I would always divert my attention to why they were about to run.
If the Heat were slowly taking the ball up on offense towards the Heat bench, Coach Rab would walk up along with them while slightly pulling up his pants.
It was heartwarming to see him greet every player who was being subbed out of the game. If they had played well, Coach Rab would make sure to acknowledge that and if they had done something wrong Coach Rab would calmly explain to them what they has missed out and give them a slight tap of sympathy.
It’s the first game that Hi-Tech Bangkok City played Saigon Heat. The Heat were coming into their third straight road game after losing to Singapore by 3 points. After watching the replay, you could see that the Heat were physically and mentally frustrated. But Coach Rab had his ways of boosting them up.
I was sitting courtside of CIS Arena on a late afternoon watching the Saigon Heat team running their practice while I was waiting to finally meat Connor Nguyen, the team president. I watched as Coach Rab directed who was doing what well and who was doing what wrong.
When I finally met Connor, we talked about the Saigon Heat team.
I raised up a question about how Jason Rabedeaux ended up with the Saigon Heat. At that time, I have to admit that I took extremely short notes with the anticipation that I would get a personal interview with Coach Rab later in person for deeper details.
I made my way towards the Saigon Heat bench at MABA Stadium in Malaysia for my first ABL game outside of Vietnam.
I was wearing a Saigon Heat jersey so the staff and players were quick to show me recognition for making the trip here. I still remember when Coach Rab noticed me and gave me wink and a slight grin before resuming back to the duty before hand. It was a close game against the Dragons and Coach had his hands busy with all of the tactical moves to be made. It was a nice experience to watch him plan out his game before hand with all of his intensity.
It was a close game against the Slingers. The first time that the Slingers were playing at CIS. Coach Rab was blocking a huge portion of my view of the court as usual.
It was a heartwarming moment when the Saigon Heat were on a run and Coach Rab turned to the crowd and raised his hands in request of more noise. It was even more heartwarming how the crowd replied, and as an outsider of the organization and fanbase, you could really feel the mutual love between Rab and the fans.
It was another away game against Hi-Tech Bangkok City. At halftime, courtside reporter Victoria Jindamusi asked Coach Rab how he was. Maybe it was the lack of ego. Maybe it was the atmosphere of enthusiasm that he brought on to that interview. Maybe it was the fact that he said “This job is hard. I want your job.” But whatever the reason, this was one of my most favorite ABL moments off the court this season.
It was a Sunday evening. This past Sunday evening. The weather was perfect and so was the game. The Heat needed to win this game to make a statement on their path to the playoffs. If they had lost, it would have created an even huger gap between them and the Indonesia Warriors, thus making the path to the playoffs much harder. And the Heat won.
The won this game quite easliy, with a couple of scares here and there, but nothing much to sweat about.
One of the guys that looked the most relieved was Coach Jason Rabedeaux who had just ended another home stand on a high note before hitting the road for a long road trip.
Little did he know that he would be taking a road trip on his own the following day.
It was in the afternoon of Monday, yesterday, when I first saw the Saigon Heat D-Team fanpage change their display picture on Facebook to black. I felt that something was definitely wrong and couldn’t shake that feeling off. Minutes later, the Saigon Heat page officially announced that Coach Jason Rabedeaux had passed away from an accident in his residence.
I can’t really explain the feeling. It had been less than 24 hours since I was sitting right behind him before he turned around to pass a bottle of water to a Saigon Heat practice player sitting next to me to hold on to. I never did get to know Coach Rab on a personal level, but we had an exchange or two and I was looking forward to getting into more contact with him, getting to pick his brains a bit more.
And then suddenly it was all gone.
I can only imagine how the people who were closer to Coach Rab felt. His family, especially his kids. His staff. His team. The players he’s coached and mentored. The Saigon Heat organization. The Saigon Heat fans. The ASEAN Basketball League.
My condolences to everyone. For we have known a great coach, a great mentor, a great friend, and a great guy.
For my part, all I can do is wish that he rests in peace and wherever he goes from here will have basketball for him to play and mentor further on.
I just hope that he knows that there is at least one more person here who he had inspired before moving on.
Until next time, Coach Rab.