By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
A familiar face for Filipino basketball fans will finally be making his highly-anticipated return.
Renaldo Balkman, a former PBA superstar import and one of the pillars of Mighty Sports Philippines, will be reinforcing the Charles Tiu-mentored Strong Group hoops squad owned by Filipino Jacob Lao.
The PHL-based basketball team will reportedly represent the Philippines in the upcoming 2023 Dubai International Championship from January 27 to February 5 next year.
Two days ago, Tiu announced the arrival of former NBA superstar Nick Young to the Strong Group franchise and already booked a flight to Manila for their team practices.
With Balkman and Young at the forefront of the Lao-owned basketball team, it seemed like the Philippines are bound for another decent finish in Dubai.
Balkman was once San Miguel Beermen’s staple import during the Commissioner’s Cup and led them to a grand finals appearance during the death five era of June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, and Marcio Lassiter.
After his stint in the PBA, Balkman became Mighty Sports PH’s leader and even led the club to a title last 2020 in Dubai.
Balkman went beast mode during that finals game against the Al Riyadi Beirut and dropped 25 big points built from 10/16 shooting from the field.
The former New York Knicks forward also rendered his services for team Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) a few years ago.
Aside from Balkman’s addition to Strong Group, former UAAP Most Valuable Player (MVP) Ange Kouame will also join the squad.
Koaume is coming off a magnificent UAAP Season 85 where he helped the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles clinch the title once again after losing against the UP Fighting Maroons last season.
However, it is still unsure if Kouame can make the trip to Dubai after he confirmed two weeks ago that he will be undergoing knee surgery to fix his partially torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).