Strong Group opens its title campaign in the 32nd Dubai Basketball International Championship against the national team of the host country at the Al-Nasr Club Hall on Friday, Jan. 27.
The game, which will also serve as the curtain raiser to the nine-day tournament, is set at 11 p.m. (Manila time) with Strong Group owner Jacob Lao and coach Charles Tiu hoping to give Filipino migrant workers in the most populous emirate of UAE good entertainment for the rest of their stay.
“We’re looking forward to playing different international teams and we’re excited to showcase our talents for our fans in Dubai and we hope we can live up to their expectations and defend the crown that we came here for,” said the youthful owner who played for the UAAP champion Ateneo last year.
The team, Lao said, is determined to keep the crown won by Mighty Sports three years ago.
Mighty Sports and Acto City are backing the team that will be spearheaded by NBA caliber imports Nick Young and Shabazz Muhammad.
Tiu’s little concern is how fast his players can adjust to the long travel and time (PH is ahead by 4 hours) after arriving early Thursday.
“The rest of our team members are arriving 5 p.m. Thursday and we play 7p.m. Friday. So it’s a short turnaround plus jet lag. Tight schedule for us but hopefully we can find a way,” said Tiu.
Young, an NBA veteran who won an NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, is eager to prove he’s still got plenty of gas left in the tank as he tries to hold the fort for the team which missed the services of big man Ange Kouame.
“Nick slowly getting there but his knee is a bit banged up. We are a small team basically a college team with some imports against pro teams. Let’s see how it goes,” said added Tiu.
Also expected to step up to the plate is Renaldo Balkman who was part of the Mighty Sports that last won the tournament, becoming the first non-Arab team to win the title.
The team will also be leaning on its young guns led by Fil-Am guard Sedrick Barefield, Jerom Lastimosa, Will Gozum, Justine Baltazar, Kevin Quiambao and JD Cagulangan. Also in the crew are BJ Andrade, Francis Lopez, Migs Oczon and Inand Fornillos.
Although not really known as a powerhouse team in the Middle-East, the UAE national team is certainly a no pushover and can still give the young Filipino crew a run for their money.