Kelly Olynyk's Vietnam Travel Journal

Vietnam: Day 3

Similar schedule, had breakfast in the morning, walked around some local shops, saw some hand-carved bowls and cutlery, some hand-woven things, went to the gym this morning and saw the kids working out, training. I talked to them a little bit about training hard, controlling what they can control, not worrying about their size or their speed, but focusing on their talents, their abilities and being able to harness them and use them to their strengths rather than focusing on what they don’t have. After that, we played a bunch of games, the kids went through a few drills, we did another sponsor activation with Spaulding, signed some pictures, took some photos, headed back to the hotel for lunch and then went to a local Vietnamese cuisine restaurant called Lemongrass. It was pretty good.

We went back to the gym for second half of the day which was, for the majority, scrimmaging and games. I got to watch the kids in action. They all worked really hard, played really hard. Most of them passed the ball. They still have a lot to improve on but they definitely got better from the first day. The highlight of my day was probably getting to see the kids play, getting to watch them enjoy the game of basketball and have fun, as well as getting to shoot around and play 1-on-1 with a few of them.

Tomorrow, we have a similar day. The kids have a few more Skills-and-Drills in the morning and then there’s All-Star selection and an All-Star Game in the afternoon for boys and for girls, then there will be some prizes, some awards, and whittle it down to 10 boys and 4 girls that will be chosen as the Junior NBA Vietnam All-Stars that will get to go on an out-of-country trip and a true NBA experience.

Furthermore, we will go to the US Consulate for dinner and a meet-and-greet, and then board a plan and take the long, 26-hour trek home. I'm looking forward to being able to really send these kids off and make some of these kids’ dreams come true. Hopefully, send them with a lot of hope and belief and desire to keep working, keep practicing, keep playing, and really love the game of basketball. As well as, hopefully we experience another Vietnam rainstorm because we didn’t get one today unfortunately, not yet at least, we still have a few hours for the torrential downpour to come, but if not, hopefully tomorrow will be better for the crops.

Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam
Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam

Vietnam: Day 2

This morning, we had breakfast at the hotel again and then headed to the gym for the first time. It was a beautiful facility, Ta Da Tong University, beautiful facility, three huge courts. We started with the opening ceremonies and welcoming of the kids. Presentations of flowers were given to each sponsor, which is a Vietnamese tradition through their culture. After the opening ceremonies, we got right to basketball, did a bunch of stations with the kids and tried to develop some skill and gauge where their skills were at. After that, we went to a place called Gao for lunch, a traditional Vietnamese lunch, that consisted of various spring rolls, fresh rolls, meats, a whole chicken, legs, head, tail, wings, feet all included, and some Vietnamese noodles as well as some traditional desserts.

We then headed back to the hotel for a little nap and went back to the gym for the afternoon session which consisted of a partner-activation, which was getting to know the sponsor-Dutch lady and taking some photographs, an autograph session with them as well as some other campers at the university. After that, we proceeded to go through some more on-court drill and stations as well as some fun game-like activities such as Knock-Out and Ultimate-Basketball. After that, we took a big camp photo, and then we came back to the hotel, rested up again and went out for a traditional Vietnamese dinner.

The dinner consisted of a variety of things again, spring rolls, some soft-shell crab deep-fried in what looked like cornflakes. What else did we have? We had filet mignon diced up and wok-fried with some various vegetables. We had an extremely spicy morning glory vegetable which was very good, as well as a sea bass, some more chicken, that’s good. Oh and a pomelo salad, which is similar to a grapefruit but not as sour and bitter. I also tried a shaved coconut, a fresh coconut that is cut into and punctured just so you can fit a straw in and get out the milk.

After dinner we headed to the Vietnamese market. At nighttime the market moves from inside to outside, and all the booths are set up outside along with some street food, some street cooking where you can almost eat outside at a various number of booths or restaurant-like set-ups that consist of traditional food cooked right in front of you.

The highlight of the day was a few things, probably getting to see the kids in action and seeing how talented and eager they were. It was very interesting to see how much the loved to play basketball and how excited they were to play the game, and I think some of that is lost in the American tradition where everyone is pushed to play, rather than these kids view it as a privilege to play. While at the gym, there was a torrential downpour in traditional Vietnamese style for a solid 20 minutes, where the rain was so loud on the roof that you could hardly hear anybody talk, as well as the storm clouds that came through at first. Because the Vietnamese gyms all have almost walls of glass, a lot of light gets in and you don’t need lights during the day, but because of the rainclouds, the gym almost went pitch-black before so we had to turn on the lights.

Tomorrow we have more of the camp, a few more on-court sessions. Tomorrow is the biggest basketball day with some longer sessions, where we’ll get to watch the kids compete a little, play a little, scrimmage in the afternoon, and just have fun trying to teach them to hone their skills and really continue to love the game of basketball.

Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam
Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam
Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam

Vietnam: Day 1

Today I woke up and got breakfast at the hotel. It was a continental breakfast that featured some Vietnamese cuisine such as Pho soup for breakfast, as well as other noodles, dumplings, cheeses, meats and pastries. After breakfast, we walked around Vietnam in District 1 for a while, looked at a few different sights such as the opera house, walked through the streets and saw a local market that was packed with everything from clothes, souvenirs, fish, meat, and a special wine that was formed by putting a live snake in a bottle and filling it with wine to blend the two tastes together which in the Vietnam culture is meant to give you strength and heal yourself.

After the market and walking around the city and sight-seeing, we came back to the hotel, took a little bit of a nap and then headed off to the first NBA Cares event. At the NBA Cares event, we went to a place called DRD, which stands for Developmental Research for Disabled Peoples. At the event, we helped the DRD reorganize their work place, clear some things out and tidy some things up.

At the event we learned about what the DRD was doing to help assimilate disabled people into the work place here, whether it be through transportation, getting them jobs, networking, or just helping them assimilate and feel more comfortable into society. While there, I ended up chopping down a tree that was growing in their building and was kind of de-rooting and a little loose and they felt it was a hazard because it could come down, so I took a knife that was about 3 inches wide and 6 inches long and by hand hacked at this palm tree thing until it was cut down.

One thing I learned about Vietnam today was that it’s rainy season, not the most rainy season, but it’s definitely a high rain season and because of Vietnam’s climate, you’ll get rain for about 10 minutes that kind of resembles a monsoon the way it comes down. It pours and pours and pours for about 10 to 15 minutes and then will clear up again. After the NBA Cares event at the DRD we headed back to the hotel for a little break and then headed off to the Junior NBA Welcome Fellowship Dinner that involved all the sponsors and all the Junior NBA campers.

At the Fellowship dinner we were introduced to all the sponsors and it kind of kicked off the weekend. We had a few guest speakers and even a magician. After the Fellowship dinner we headed back to the hotel to call it a night and get ready for tomorrow’s festivities.

I would say that the highlight of my day was probably just walking around and seeing the culture and the people and the different goods and souvenirs that are sold on the streets as well as how the Vietnamese people live. Also, I think the highlight, there were many highlights to my day. I think trying some of the Vietnamese cuisine was definitely a highlight and I’m looking forward to doing more of that as well as learning and seeing these kids and the talent they have.

I was just encouraged and excited to see what the Vietnamese culture had to offer in terms of how they lived out here, what the food is like, the culture, and also, any time you have a chance to give back to a community like an NBA Cares event, it’s a great time. Being able to do that in a culture like this where they’re so appreciative, and nice, and genuine was something special.

Tomorrow we start the day bright and early with a kickoff to the camp. We have the NBA Opening Ceremonies followed by the beginning of the Encore programs. After that, we’ll have a little break for lunch and then go back for some more on-court sessions with a few of the partners and the Junior NBA.

The thing I’m most looking forward to tomorrow is seeing what these kids, seeing how these kids interact with each other, how much they love the game of basketball, where their talent lies, and hopefully just have a whole ton of fun with these kids on the court.

Back to the highlight, we were in the market and the sold a whole bunch of different stuff like souvenirs, clothes, food, as such, and I found a Boston Celtics jersey that was black and light blue, with the number 20 on it. And I was going through our team in my head and I couldn’t figure out who number 20 was so we asked the lady if she could pull it down and we flip it over and it was a Rondo jersey, a black and blue number 20 Rondo jersey. I was tempted to buy it but the price was too high and she wasn’t open for bargaining.

She wasn’t having any part of it. I told her she got the wrong number and I feel like it should be on discount, but she thought it was more like a one-of-a-kind thing and should be jacked up so I didn’t end up purchasing it, but that was also one of the highlights.

Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam
Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam
Kelly Olynyk in Vietnam