There’s a certain pain that comes with losing at the buzzer and there may not be words to describe what Strong Group Athletics went through at the conclusion of the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championship (DIBC).
It was a comeback for the ages for Strong Group Athletics as they were staring at a 19-point deficit against Al Riyadi Club Beirut with 6:17 left in the third quarter. McKenzie Moore, Andre Roberson, and Jordan Heading sparked a 24-4 run that handed Strong Group Athletics a 62-61 lead in the fourth quarter. Both Strong Group Athletics and Al Riyadi would take turns holding the lead, but Al Riyadi had the last word.
The loss will definitely sting for the Strong Group Athletics, who improved on their quarterfinal finish last year and came really close to denying Al Riyadi’s bid for back-to-back DIBC titles. However, the somber ending should not discount Strong Group Athletics’ DIBC campaign, which has been a successful one and will not likely be the last.
The team was formed more or less a month ago, which would be a short time for international basketball preparations but a normal timeline for Gilas Pilipinas. Strong Group Athletics head coach Charles Tiu, team consultant Brian Goorjian, and assistant Topex Robinson were able to establish a system for a team that nearly went on an unbeaten run if not for a last-gasp 3-pointer for Al Riyadi.
Roberson and Dwight Howard put on strong performances, with both clearly motivated to get back to the NBA. Former Gilas Pilipinas big man Andray Blatche came up with a couple of vintage games, but he finished with only three points in eight minutes during the finals in part due to a sprained ankle he suffered earlier in the postseason. Meanwhile, UAAP reigning MVP Kevin Quiambao was a clear standout among the local players, earning All-Tournament Team honors for his efforts. Quiambao did, however, end up being scoreless in 37 minutes against Al Riyadi, but knowing how he operates, the 22-year old will use the whole experience as motivation for UAAP Season 87.
Props must also be given to the Strong Group, led by Frank Lao and his son Jacob. Putting this team together clearly shows that they mean business and they are capable of doing so. It won’t be surprising if they run it back for next year’s DIBC and it will only add to a resume that seems deserving of a PBA franchise. That is, if the PBA will only grant them one.
A painful conclusion to Strong Group Athletic’s campaign in the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championship was the final chapter of what was still a successful run. Expect them to make a return in the next edition, especially with a motivated bunch of players and management.