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Cambodian-American basketball star dies following short illness

Jose Rodriguez T. Senase / Khmer Times Share:
Sophoeun Oeun in action during his playing days with the Saigon Heat in the Asian Basketball League. CBF

Sophoeun Oeun, a Cambodian-American basketball star who represented the Kingdom in many tournaments abroad, has passed away.

Oeun’s passing was announced yesterday by the Cambodia Basketball Federation (CBF). He passed away in the United States on Tuesday after a short illness, according to the announcement. He was 34.

There were unconfirmed reports that Oeun was suffering from respiratory problems prior to his passing.

“The Cambodia Basketball Federation would like to extend its heartfelt condolences to the family at this hour of grief, and also pray that God will provide his family and friends the strength, perseverance and courage to come out of this,” the Federation said.

Known as ‘Sop’ to many of his friends, Oeun joined the Cambodian national basketball team in 2011. He played for Cambodia in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia and later in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was also part of the Cambodian team that went on a basketball tour around China nine years ago.

Oeun led the Cambodian team in scoring in all but one of the 12 games they played before and during the 2011 SEA Games.

“His dedication and commitment to the programme was exceptional. He lighted up the court with his presence both on the defensive and offensive ends. He provided the centre/forward role that was lacking on the team,” Austin Koledoye, secretary-general of the CBF, said.

“He was as a solid part of the programme since then,” he added.

Austin Koledoye mentioned the time he was looking for foreign-born Cambodian ballers to reinforce the national team.

“Before him, I recruited Sopheeng Toun, who then recruited Pek Mith. I told Pek to that I am looking for a better player than Sopheeng (Toun),” he recalled.

In 2007, Toun became the first Cambodian-American player on the Cambodian national team. Koledoye and many others consider the guard as the best basketball player in the modern era of Cambodian basketball.

“He (Toun) recommended Sophoeun Oeun. That was the quality of Sop,” the CBF official recalled.

Koledoye said Oeun showed his quality as a player early on. “He showed that during his first practice at the Olympic Stadium in 2011. I was impressed. He, together with the other players, sparked the golden era in Cambodian basketball,” he said.

“I am personally devastated by this loss. I can go on and on to talk about this remarkable young man,” he added.

Oeun was also the first Cambodian baller to play professionally in the modern era.

The 6-4 power forward was recruited to play for the Saigon Heat in the 2012 season of the Asian Basketball League after the Vietnamese  club was impressed by his  performance in the 2011 SEA Games.

Oeun leaves behind his wife Theavuth and three young children.

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