Strong Group is banking on its sixth man ˗ the overseas Filipino workers in Dubai ˗ to provide the much-needed boost as it takes on an expected tough field in the 32nd Dubai International Championship beginning Jan. 27.
All bags are packed and ready to go as the Jacob Lao-owned Philippine basketball club flies to Dubai in two batches with the first leaving on Wednesday and the second Thursday.
Strong Group head coach Charles Tiu said they will need all the help from the Filipino crowd in the venue especially going up against the top Middle East teams including the Lebanese squads which according to the youthful mentor pose huge threat to the country’s title aspirations for a second-straight title in the tournament.
“We definitely need the Filipino fans to come out and support us there. They’ve been our sixth man every time and we need every single one of them,” said Tiu, who guided Mighty Sports to title win three years ago.
“All the Lebanese teams will be tough. Al-Riyadi, of course, who we played in the championship the last time we joined, and in the semifinals the year before that. Beirut Lebanon, Dynamo Lebanon are all tough. And then we have the teams from Tunisia, Morocco and Iraq,” he added.
Strong Group is grouped with Dynamo-Lebanon in Group A, along with United Arab Emirates national team, Al-Wahda from Syria and Al-Nasr from Libya.
It also didn’t help that crew will be without Ange Kouame who had to be dropped out of the lineup after suffering from Dengue.
“It’s been tough without Ange. It changes everything for us. We built this team knowing we would have had him, and his absence is really a game changer,” said Tiu.
In Kouame’s place, Tiu said the team tried to tap the services of Justin Brownlee and Andray Blatche but both were not available due to the conflict of schedules. They still got a big man though with La Salle forward Kevin Quiambao.
Still bannering the squads are former NBA stars Nick Young and Shabazz Mohammad along with Fil-American guard Sedrick Barefield, Justine Baltazar, Will Gozum.
Also in the crew are Jerom Lastimosa and JD Cagulangan, Francis Lopez, BJ Andrade, Migs Oczon and Inand Fornillos.
Strong Group opens its campaign against the UAE national team on Friday, Jan. 27 before taking on Al-Nasr Libya on Saturday, Jan. 28, and Al-Wahda on Sunday, Jan. 29. It wraps up the group stage against Dynamo-Lebanon on Wednesday next week.