UNBEATEN Strong Group braces for a possible gigantic collision against powerhouse Lebanese squads, including Al Riyadi led by ace guard Wael Arakji, in the next stage of the 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship.
With a perfect 3-0 card in Group A, Strong Group has already booked a ticket in the quarterfinals regardless of its last assignment against Lebanon’s Dynamo with a similar slate.
The Philippine representative and Dynamo were to clash for the group lead last night (11 p.m. Manila time), serving as the team’s primer for a steeper climb in the knockout rounds.
There, the squad owned by Frank and Jacob Lao, may cross paths with other but equally formidable Lebanese squads bannered by Al Riyadi, which has a bevy of Lebanon national team players in its fold.
Joining Mr. Arakji, who is the reigning Best Point Guard in Asia after anchoring Lebanon to a runner-up finish in the Asia Cup and into the FIBA World Cup this year, are Amir Saoud, Hayk Gyokchan and ex-NBA cager AJ Majok.
Mr. Arakji also served as a thorn for Gilas Pilipinas in the previous window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, making it an extra spicy match-up if ever for Strong Group that also features Philippine national team campaigners led by Kevin Quiambao, Jerom Lastimosa and Lebron Lopez.
Al Riyadi is currently in top spot of Group B with a 2-0 card followed by Club Africain of Tunisia (2-1), Sports Club Beirut of Lebanon (1-1) and Sale of Morocco (0-3), which may pose problems for Strong Group in the playoffs.
“All teams are very tough,” said coach Charles Tiu, whose wards are led by former NBA campaigners and PBA imports in Shabazz Muhammad and Renaldo Balkman.
Ex-NBA champion Nick Young is also in the fray for Strong Group but he is nursing a knee injury as Mr. Tiu is banking on the steady contributions of his locals led by Messrs. Quiambao, Lastimosa and Fil-American Sedrick Barefield.
Strong Group bested the United Arab Emirates (UAE) national team, 91-87, before drubbing Libya’s Al Nasr, 93-76, and Syria’s Al Wahda, 87-61. — John Bryan Ulanday