NBA veteran Dwight Howard is Philippines-bound.
The decorated big man will reinforce country representative Strong Group in the Dubai International Basketball Championship slated on Jan. 19 to 28 in the United Arab Emirates.
No less than head coach Charles Tiu confirmed the news first reported by NBA insider Shams Charania of The Athletic.
“He should be here this weekend,” Tiu on Wednesday told The STAR, expecting Mr. Howard’s hulking presence to spell the difference for the Philippine team.
“I expect him to still be dominant, especially defensively. We got him because we intend to win and we think he would give us the best chance (to accomplish it).”
Mr. Howard, the No. 1 pick of the Orlando Magic in 2004, indeed boasts a stacked resume in the NBA that should be handy for Strong Group’s Dubai bid.
He’s an NBA champion, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-NBA First Team and eight-time All-Star with stints in the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Mr. Howard, 38, also served as a vital cog for Team USA’s Redeem Team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the powerhouse squad featuring legendary cagers Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, reclaimed the gold medal. Recently, Mr. Howard played for Taoyuan Leopards in Taiwan’s T1 League, where he won Most Valuable Player (MVP) for Imports and All-Star Game MVP, before trooping to another Asian squad in Strong Group.
Aside from Mr. Howard, Strong Group also scooped up the services of Australia national team mentor and former Bay Area coach Brian Goorjian as part of Tiu’s coaching staff. Mr. Goorjian steered Bay Area to a runner-up finish in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup as a guest team.
UAAP MVP Kevin Quiambao of La Salle and ace point guard JD Cagulangan of the University of the Philippines are among the notable players to headline the squad alongside the NBA legend, according to Mr. Tiu.
The full roster, including the additional imports, will be released soon as Strong Group seeks redemption after a quarterfinal exit last year led by fellow ex-NBAers in Renaldo Balkman, Shabazz Muhammad, Nick Young Messrs. Quiambao and Cagulangan were also part of last year’s squad with MPBL MVP Justine Baltazar,Fil-American sensation Sedrick Barefield, Jerom Lastimosa, Will Gozum, Migz Oczon and Francis Lopez.
Strong Group is eyeing to bring the Dubai crown back to the Philippines after the feat of Mighty Sport, also mentored by Mr. Tiu, in 2020 as the first non-Middle Eastern champion team. — John Bryan Ulanday