By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
PHL-based basketball team Strong Group is still not done signing big names for the upcoming 32nd Dubai International Basketball tournament from January 27 to February 5.
After landing former NBA big guns in Nick Young and Renaldo Balkman, the Jacob Lao-owned hoops squad further solidified its strong 12 as they signed UAAP champion BJ Andrade, Gilas Pilipinas young cadet Justine Baltazar, and NCAA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Will Gozum.
The trio will be teaming up with Young and Balkman under the mentorship of head coach Charles Tiu who is coming off a spectacular season with the College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Blazers.
Tiu led the team to their first trip back to the NCAA men’s basketball grand finals after 20 long years since the Sunday Salvacion era.
However, Tiu and the rest of the Blazers failed to take down the reigning and defending champions Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights in three grueling games.
Tiu shared that securing the commitment of these top-level collegiate stars will be a big thing in conquering another Dubai International campaign.
The PHL last clinched the prestigious championship trophy in 2020 led by no other than Balkman who erupted for 25 big points against AL Riyadi Beirut in the championship game.
Andrade became one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the UAAP and helped Ateneo reclaim basketball glory when they dethroned the UP Fighting Maroons in an intense finals rematch.
Meanwhile, Baltazar, is already a battle-tested young star after earning his stripes with the Gilas Pilipinas national team mentored by Tab Baldwin.
The former De La Salle University (DLSU) power forward had his latest basketball stint in the Japan B. League but was later on released by the Hiroshima Dragonflies in the middle of the conference.
Gozum on the other hand was Tiu’s ward in CSB and blossomed into an MVP star when he left the Fighting Maroons for Benilde several years ago.
“They’re all winners in their own ways and their experience will surely help the team for them. But very excited for all the because it is a rare opportunity for these players to further grow and learn a new style of play internationally,” said Lao.