Philippine club team Strong Group is in a race against time to jell with just over a week to go before the Charles Tiu-coached squad sees action in the 2023 Dubai International Championship in United Arab Emirates.But even with a mixture of young players coming from the collegiate ranks, and backstopped by NBA veterans led by Renaldo Balkman, Nick Young and Shabbaz Muhammad, Tiu is confident that Strong Group could hold its own against the best club teams in the Middle East.Strong Group, is in fact, bunched in Group A alongside the United Arab Emirates national team, Al-Wahda from Syria, Dynamo-Lebanon and Al Nasr from Libya. "Team chemistry is slowly picking up. Balkman has been our clear cut leader as always. They're slowly getting in shape too. So that's a good sign," said Tiu, who won the 2020 edition after steering Mighty Sports to a tournament sweep behind Balkman and then Gilas naturalized player Andray Blatche.While Balkman and Co. are expected to be at the forefront of Strong Group's title drive in Dubai, Tiu believes he's got a bunch of young players who can play beautiful music with the NBA veterans.
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Adamson playmaker Jerom Lastimosa has been impressive, according to Tiu, and together with University of the Philippines' JD Cagulangan, the Philippine club team is expected to run at every given opportunity."Jerom Lastimosa is really good. Best point guard in college for sure. He's so much better than I thought," Tiu said of the Adamson Falcon playmaker.Also adding youth, speed and shooting is Ateneo's graduating team captain BJ Andrade."BJ Andrade also has impressed me. He's a great teammate, does a lot of the little things apart from being a great shooter. It's no wonder Ateneo won all those championships," noted Tiu.
Tiu's other young recruits include two members of his St. Benilde team – NCAA Season 98 Most Valuable Player Will Gozum and gunner Migs Oczon. Former Ateneo high standout Lebron Lopez, ex-La Salle stalwart Justine Baltazar, Gilas' young naturalized big man Ange Kouame of Ateneo, Inand Fornillos and Filipino American guard Sedrick Barefield, who played for the University of Utah, complete the Strong Group cast.