College stars join Strong Group

LeBron Lopez: From Blue to Maroon

After successfully getting the services of three former National Basketball Association players as well as Filipino-American Sedrick Barefield, Strong Group added Lebron Lopez and three other collegiate stars to its roster as it prepares for its title campaign in the 32nd Dubai International Championship from 27 January to 5 February.

Team owner Jacob Lao made the announcement, saying that Lopez as well as Joel Cagulangan of University of the Philippines, Jerom Lastimosa of Adamson University, and Miguel Oczon of College of Saint Benilde were given a call-up to help the country assert its dominance in this prestigious tourney that gathers the best club teams in the Middle East.

Lopez, a Gilas Pilipinas recruit, is set to make his debut for Ateneo de Manila University in Season 86 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines while Cagulangan is fresh from helping UP make a strong run in Season 85.

Lastimosa, for his part, helped the Falcons reached the UAAP Final Four while Oczon bannered the Blazers to their first National Collegiate Athletic Association finals appearance in two decades.

“We all know JD (Cagulangan) can make big shots and lead a championship team he’s been doing it for a while now,” Lao said.

“I’m just excited for him to showcase his talents as he gets the chance to represent the country.”

Lao once expressed his gratitude to the Gilas management for allowing Lopez to suit up for the team that is determined to keep the crown as a Philippine club team.

Mighty Sports completed a grand sweep of the title three years ago to become the first club team outside of the Middle East to win the event.

“Great talent. Still raw but we are hopeful we can give him the opportunity to improve himself and gain some experience,” Strong Group coach Charles Tiu said.

Tiu is likewise convinced the team is already good enough but his main concern, for now, is how to develop team chemistry with less than three weeks to prepare.

What excites Tiu is the presence of Cagulangan, Oczon, and Lastimosa in the team, saying: “I love shooting guards and we are thankful they (their schools) allow them to play for us.”

“Hopefully, they will improve further playing with and against some great players.”

The team is reinforced by former NBA star Nick Young, ex-Philippine Basketball Association import Shabazz Muhammad and Renaldo Balkman, the same player who helped Mighty Sports win the title the last time.

Also named in the lineup are Korean Basketball League-bound Justine Baltazar, NCAA Most Valuable Player and College of St. Benilde forward Will Gozum, and former Ateneo stalwarts BJ Andrade and Inand Fornillos.

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