By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
PHL-based basketball squad Strong Group increased its chances of raking the 32nd Dubai International Championship after adding some of the brightest stars in the UAAP and the NCAA.
The team owned by former Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) player Jacob Lao announced their roster addition on January 11, 2023 to be coached by College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Blazers’ Charles Tiu.
After securing the commitment of Ange Kouame, Justine Baltazar, Will Gozum, and BJ Andrade, Strong Group confirmed that they will also be bringing in CSB shooter Miguel Oczon, UP’s star guard JD Cagulangan, Ateneo high-flyer Francis Lopez, and Adamson King Falcon Jerom Lastimosa.
The solid collegiate pool will be seeking to mesh in with NBA stars Nick Young, who once played for the Golden State Warriors and won a championship, and Renaldo Balkman, a familiar name in PHL basketball due to his numerous stints in the PBA as an import.
According to Tiu, having the young guns to be surrounded by such NBA talents and veterans will not only help them boost their experience but also their understanding of the game.
Lastimosa, UAAP Season 85’s PSBankable Player of the Season, was coming off a monster year for Adamson after leading them to the Final Four.
Meanwhile, Oczon also delivered for the Blazers after leading the school to its first NCAA Finals trip after 20 years.
Cagulangan, UP Fighting Maroons’ hero after sinking the game-winning trey that ended their 36-year losing spell last UAAP Season 84, will also be tasked to fill the point guard spot alongside Lastimoso.
“I love scoring guards and we are thankful that they allowed him to play for us. would be nice for him to get some international exposure too,” said Tiu.
The prestigious basketball tournament will be running from January 27 to February 5. The Philippines will also gun for their second title in Dubai after the Balkman-led squad last 2020 won the championship after taking down Al Riyadi Beirut.