SLOWLY but surely, Strong Group is sharpening its saw for an expected tough grind in the 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship after being drawn into Group A featuring the United Arab Emirates national team.
Head coach Charles Tiu said the Philippine contingent is on track to hit full form with improved chemistry a week before the prestigious tilt, where they will also face Al-Wahda from Syria, Dynamo from Lebanon and Al Nasr from Libya, slated on Jan. 27 to Feb. 5
“Team chemistry is slowly picking up. Renaldo Balkman has been our clear cut leader as always. They’re slowly getting in shape so that’s a good sign,” said Mr. Tiu as Strong Group eyes to duplicate the championship run of his Mighty squad last time.
Then led by Mr. Balkman and former Gilas Pilipinas naturalized player Andray Blatche, the Caesar Wongchuking-owned Mighty squad swept the 2020 edition of Dubai tilt to become the first non-Middle Eastern champion team.
Mr. Balkman is back for another duty this time with the team owned by Jacob Lao and backed by Mighty Sports and Acrocity Guiguinto to create a formidable troika with fellow ex-NBAers in Shabazz Muhammad and Nick Young.
The presence of the three seasoned reinforcements bolster the Strong Group’s title chances, especially with coverage from a bevy of collegiate stalwarts led by Adamson’s Jerom Lastimosa.
“Jerom Lastimosa is really good. Best point guard in college for sure. He’s so much better than I thought,” added Mr. Tiu on the ace guard who anchored the Falcons’ magical Final Four run in UAAP Season 85.
Aside from Mr. Lastimosa, also in the fray for Strong Group are Gilas naturalized cager Ange Kouame from Ateneo, Fil-Am prospect Sedrick Barefield, NCAA MVP Will Gozum from St. Benilde and ex-La Salle big man Justine Baltazar.
Completing the squad are Ateneo’s BJ Andrade, Inand Fornillos and Lebron Lopez, JD Cagulangan of University of the Philippines and St. Benilde’s Miguel Oczon. — John Bryan Ulanday