THE Strong Group is banking on its sixth man—overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)—in Dubai for a much-needed boost as it takes on an expectedly tough field in the 32nd Dubai International Championship beginning Friday.
All their bags are packed and ready to go as the Jacob Lao-owned Philippine 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 as they go up against top Middle East teams, including the Lebanese squads which, according to the young coach, pose a huge threat to the country’s bid 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 each time and we need every single one of them,” said Tiu, who guided Mighty Sports to the title three years ago.
“All the Lebanese teams will be tough. Al-Riyadi, of course, which we played in the championship the last time and in the semifinals the year before that,” Tiu said. “Beirut Lebanon and Dynamo Lebanon are all tough. And then we have the teams from Tunisia, Morocco and Iraq.”
Strong Group is bracketed with Dynamo-Lebanon in Group A, along with United Arab Emirates national team, Al-Wahda of Syria and Al-Nasr of Libya.
It also didn’t help that the Strong Group will be without Ange Kouame who’s down with 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,” Tiu said.
Tiu said the team tried to tap Justin Brownlee and Andray Blatche but both aren’t available. De La Salle forward Kevin Quiambao will be filling in at the shade.
The team is composed of former National Basketball Association stars Nick Young and Shabazz Mohammad, Filipino-American guard Sedrick Barefield, Justine Baltazar, Will Gozum, Jerom Lastimosa, JD Cagulangan, Francis Lopez, BJ Andrade, Migs Oczon and Inand Fornillos.
Strong Group opens its campaign against the UAE national team on Friday before taking on Al-Nasr Libya and Al-Wahda on Sunday. It wraps up the group stage against Dynamo-Lebanon Wednesday next week.