Strong Group may have fallen short of its goal in the 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship in Dubai but the young charges of head coach Charles Tiu are definitely coming home with valuable lessons which they can use when they return to their respective leagues.
Playing alongside legitimate NBA talents in Shabazz Muhammad, Renaldo Balkman and Nick Young in a high-level competition that has the likes of Lebanon stars Wael Arakji and Amir Saoud, the tournament was a good learning experience for young guns in Jerom Lastimosa, JD Cagulangan, Francis Lopez and Kevin Quiambao.
“I think overall it was a good experience for our young players, seeing the competition here, being around high level basketball teams and competing against them,” said Tiu who also has his CSB stars Will Gozum and Migs Oczon in the team.
Among his young players, however, Tiu was particularly impressed with Lastimosa and Cagulangan after they held their own against stronger, bigger and heftier point guards from the other teams.
“Jerom Lastimosa was great, they couldn't really guard him here and he improved defensively and adjusted as the tournament progressed. He is really good,” Tiu said of Adamson's King Falcon who is set to play his final year in college next UAAP season.
“Cagulangan was a menace defensively and although he was smaller than everyone, he never backed down. I'm sure he will have learnings on what to improve in his game,” he added, referring to the pint-sized UP guard.
Quiambao also caught Tiu’s attention and while Lopez, Gozum and Oczon didn’t get much playing time, the youthful mentor believes they are only set to get better from their experience playing for the Jacob Lao-owned team which was also backed by Mighty Sports and Acrocity.
Aside from his collegiate standouts, Tiu also pointed out the improvement of young big man Justine Baltazar throughout the tournament.
The former La Salle forward showed semblance of his usual dominant and confident self which he lost after being left at the far end of the bench during an uneventful stint in the Japan B.League.
“I am happy that Balti got to play again and got some confidence back. He was looking like a completely different guy when we were practicing but slowly looked like the old Balti we knew as the tournament went on,” said Tiu.
For a team composed mostly of young guns, Strong Group made a good account of itself in Dubai, finishing the group stage second with a 3-1 record. It also gave Lebanese powerhouse teams Dynamo and Al Riyadi a run for their money before finally bowing out in the quarterfinals.