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Supavadee Kunchuan: From aspiring doctor to playing basketball around the world

BANGKOK (Thailand) - Supavadee "Bo" Kunchuan never really expected to make it in basketball. That seems weird for someone who has played on national team squads at both the youth and senior level, played on a collegiate scholarship in the US, and played professionally abroad.

But that's the truth. Thailand's star Kunchuan never meant to be a basketball player all the way up until the age of 16.

Lone star to team player

She had starred in several other sports like swimming, badminton, tennis, and especially taekwondo, but only played individual sports during her childhood. Kunchuan wasn't even looking forward to a career as an athlete at the time, but by pure chance, she took up basketball and it happily worked out.

"I wanted to be a doctor and I had already moved to Khon Kaen to focus on my studies for that,"Kunchuan revealed. "But my father's [youth] team had just lost a key player and needed a tall replacement."

"He looked around and saw his own daughter right in front of him, so from there I just started training with him three times a day because I didn't have the fundamentals of a basketball player. I did have the athleticism though, so I caught on quickly."

"But that's the reason I started playing basketball: my dad was just missing a player on his team."

She barely had any interest in basketball at that point, but her athletic mindset pushed her to do her best. For Kunchuan, she didn't want to lose. She didn't want to be dead weight. She wanted to be the best. And that's what pushed her to give it her all during those practice sessions. Playing for her father's team, she played well enough to catch the attention of youth national team scouts. As quickly as she had jumped into the basketball scene, Kunchuan was already on the roster for the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2009 which was held in Thailand - and she was just 17 years old.

Peera Kunchuan, Supavadee's father, was undoubtedly pleased by how this has unfolded. He is a basketball player himself, having starred on several national teams and had even won awards in international competitions.

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Happy Father’s Day ค่ะคุณพ่อ รักนะ จุ๊ฟๆๆ @peera_muk

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Supavadee enjoyed playing at the U19 Women's Basketball World Cup, especially the fun times with her teammates and getting to play against and see great young talents from around the world. It was certainly an eye-opening experience.

"I remember one time we were practicing and the Russian national team walked in for their practice session. I saw their center go through the door and because the doors in Thailand are so small, she had to kind of bend over to get through!" Kunchuan recalled.

Even then, the young Kunchuan wasn't fully committed to basketball just yet. She was still focused on her ambition to be a doctor and took a year off from basketball to concentrate on her studies.

While her father had always pushed her to be an athlete, it was her mother who inspired her as a scholar. Kunchuan's mother was a national team athlete herself in volleyball, but she had always taught her daughter to prepare herself academically and for life in the long run. She had other close relatives who worked in the medical field and being close to that pushed her towards pursuing a medical career.

Eventually, her path towards becoming a doctor didn't pan out, but another door opened up. Her performances at the youth level caught the eyes of collegiate coaches, which earned her a scholarship to play at Bangkok University. Now with the dedication to excel on the hardwood, she was ready to take the next step.

At the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2013, Kunchuan made the senior national team roster at the age of just 20 years old. Her perspective of playing at the national team level had changed in the past 4 years.


"Because I was more focused on basketball, playing for the national team became a more serious matter," She explained. "Whenever I got to play, I put in my full effort. At the Women's Asia Cup, that's the best in Asia! So I learned the tricks of the trade. I saw what I was lacking,  what I needed to improve. I watched teams like China, Korea, Japan and learned from them."

"Back then I was a youngster on the team, so my playing time was limited - to be frank, I was just a bench player. I remember when we were playing against the Philippines and we were down by 20 points in the third quarter. Everyone wanted to give a chance to the young players like me to get a chance to play."

"So I got a chance and played my heart out and it turned out to be a good game for me," recalled Kunchuan, who scored 9 points in 8 minutes that game. She had played only 8 minutes in total in the first two contests.

"After that game, it seemed like the coach changed his perspective towards me. He saw that I could play and that I had talent as well."

Global Experience

More than the increased playing time, another opportunity was waiting in the stands at that moment. Coach David Bobalik liked what he saw on the court from Kunchuan. He approached her and asked if she wanted to play in the US.

"I was like 'who doesn’t want to play in the US?'"

So after a lengthy period of training to prepare herself mentally and physically, Kunchuan got an opportunity in a scholarship with St. Thomas University in Miami (Florida). She flew all the way to the other side of the world to chase a dream.

"I was really, really focused, and motivated to make it to the WNBA. That was my goal," Kunchuan said.

"But when I got there, I was shocked."

"The first two months I was there, I cried a lot. I told my mom that I wanted to give up and just go home because it was really tough. Running, weight training, practice, and then there was all the yelling. It was just a different culture and I couldn't properly communicate or vent with anyone because my English wasn't too good back then."

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The pressure took its toll on the aspiring youngster and she had to take a two-week break from it all. However, with the advice from her parents and coach David, she gained a better understanding of everything and adjusted.

"When I got there, I thought that I was already a good player. Like, I played on the national team! But when I got there, some so many people were better than me and they won't take you by word how god you are: you have to show them."

Kunchuan got back on her feet and was determined to prove herself with her coach and her team once again. The process of getting back in after her hiatus wasn't easy. She needed her teammates to vote her back in. Her coach had her make up for all the practices she had missed over the past two weeks but training three times a day instead of two like his friends.

Eventually, it was all worth it.

In her first year, Kunchuan was awarded as the Sun Conference's Newcomer of the Year and named to the First-Team All-Conference. She was named to the First-Team All-Conference for a second straight time in 2017, while also being named an NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Honorable Mention All-American. It was also her senior year where she averaged 14.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

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Speechless.... Thank you

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"I felt pride like I had never felt before," she expressed. "Back then [in Thailand] when I won awards, it always seemed like it was too easy. But here [in the US], it felt real. They based the awards on statistics and performance and I felt like that pushed me to realize that you have to put in the work to get results."

Following her collegiate success in the US, Kunchuan returned to Thailand. Though she never achieved her initial goal of playing in the WNBA, she mentioned about getting offers to play in Portugal and some other European countries. However, an alternative presented itself which was a bit closer to home and offered a chance to proceed further in her studies.

"It was perfect timing when I played in the SEA Games 2017 in Malaysia. I got to know a lot of people in Malaysia, too. They were impressed with me, so they offered me a chance to play professionally there in 2017 and 2018."

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🤜🏻🤜🏻🤜🏻🤜🏻 Let’s Go Baby!!

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"When I played for them, I impressed them even more so they told me they could offer me a scholarship here [for a Ph.D.]."

She took the deal and is now in the middle of getting a degree in Business and Management at UCSI University while also coaching the basketball team there. So while basketball continues to be a big part of her life, Kunchuan is prepared for whenever her playing days are done with her education. It's been what she has been prepared for from the start.

"It's like I was lucky to experience both the culture in Thailand and in the US," she explained. "In Thailand, I know that basketball can’t provide a career for me forever while in the US, it might be. So since I'm Thai and I live in Thailand, if I continued down the path as an athlete and I get injured to a point where I can't play anymore, who is going to take care of me?"

"In the end, it'll be my level of education that'll provide for me so I feel that it is important as well."

Future of Thailand and Women's basketball

As someone who has played with the national team since she was young, Kunchuan says that she has seen women's basketball growing all around her, especially in the neighboring countries.

"Like Indonesia," she said. "Early on, they didn't look so great, but lately they have even beaten Thailand like in SEA Games 2015 and they've just kept getting better and better. They have a professional league, their players have salaries, and it just keeps on growing."

She wants to see that for Thailand as well. All of the experiences she has gathered playing for the national team and abroad, she is ready to share with everyone to help improve the basketball scene in her country.

"What I have done is I started with myself," said Kunchuan. "I showed everyone what the steps were to be a good athlete. I'm ready to share all of that experience with everyone in Thailand so that we can be better."

Because of all she has accomplished and her willingness to share, she has plenty of young basketball fans - girls and boys - constantly reach out for her advice. These small moments and text messages are what she says keeps her going.

"I feel like it's more motivation than pressure [in being a role model]," Kunchuan said. "I've nearly given up many times because I felt that I wasn't going anywhere with all the effort I put in, but it's all of these young kids reaching out to me like 'how do you do this' or 'how do you do that' that has pushed me forward."

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Thank you for your support guys!!

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"When I went to Indonesia for the Asian Games 2018, I didn't know that I had some fans there. There was this one girl who had been following me for a while and we're always texting like 'how are you doing sister' - because she's like a little sister to me - and she lived in Batam. So when I was playing in Jakarta for the Asian Games, she traveled with her mother from Batam - which is very far away - by train to watch me play for one day and then immediately went back!"

"It was so unexpected and I was so surprised by the love everyone showed me. I felt like this is what has kept me going because they all see how I play and how I am."

Kunchuan is still only 27 years old and she still has a lot of fire to play for many years to come. But even when she will eventually have to call it a day, she'll continue to help build up basketball in Thailand.

"I'll always be involved with basketball but we'll see in which capacity," she answered when asked about her future. "Maybe I'll start an academy where I can train younger kids and help them out or maybe something else. But basketball will always be there because basketball is my life. There's no way I could leave it anyways. The knowledge and experiences I have, I want to share with everyone. So when I grow older, I still want to be able to pass this on to the future and the next generation."