The Philippines at the Dubai International Basketball Championship

A Brief History of Philippine Participation in the Dubai Basketball Championship

Philippine teams have been playing in the Dubai Basketball Championship since 2010. Here’s a brief history of all of them.

For the second straight year, Strong Group Athletics will be the Philippine representative at the Dubai International Basketball Championship. What exactly is this tournament, and how has the Philippines fared in it? Here’s a brief breakdown.

The Dubai International Basketball Championship has been around since the late 1980s. It has also been called the Dubai Invitational Basketball Tournament. It’s essentially an annual tournament involving eight to ten club teams based in the Middle East.

2010-2011: Smart Gilas

The Philippines first participated in the tournament in 2010, with the Smart Gilas national team coached by Rajko Toroman finishing third. Among the players on that team were future pros Chris Tiu, Mark Barroca, Mac Baracael, Dylan Ababou, JV Casio, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Aldrech Ramos and Jason Ballesteros, and naturalization candidate Jamal Sampson.

The following year, practically the same Smart Gilas pool was back, but this time with naturalized player Marcus Douthit as its reinforcement. This time, Smart-Gilas made it all the way to the championship game, bowing to El Ettehad El Sakandary of Egypt, 84-75, to finish second.

2013: New Smart Gilas

After skipping the 2012 edition, Smart Gilas was back in 2013 with a new pool of young players. Also, Chot Reyes had replaced Rajko Toroman as coach. Marcus Douthit was still the team’s naturalized player, but new players such as Ronjay Buenafe, Garvo Lanete, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, and Kevin Alas formed the core. Smart Gilas reached the quarterfinals, where they lost by 30 to Sagesse of Lebanon.

2015: NLEX Road Warriors

The Philippines once again skipped the Dubai International Basketball Championship in 2014 but returned in 2015 with PBA team NLEX Road Warriors participating as preparation for their stint in the Commissioner’s Cup. The Road Warriors were reinforced by import and NBA veteran Al Thornton and led by Asi Taulava, Mac Cardona, and KG Canaleta.

Coached by Boyet Fernandez, the Road Warriors went 2-2 in the group stage before losing to ASS Sale of Morocco in the quarterfinals.

2017: Mighty Sports

Following another gap year in 2016, the Philippines returned to Dubai in 2018 with Mighty Sports representing the country with a star-studded roster. Coached by Charles Tiu, the team was backstopped by former NBA no. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet, Dominic McGuire, Justin Brownlee, and Douthit. Among the locals were amateur standouts Kiefer Ravena, Jeron Teng, and Jett Manuel, plus PBA veterans Beau Belga, Chris Tiu, Ryan Araña, Willie Miller, and Gary David.

Despite a loaded line-up, Mighty Sports won just one game and lost six to finish seventh overall.

2018: San Beda Red Lions

The first Philippine collegiate team participated in the tournament in 2018 when the NCAA champions San Beda Red Lions were picked to participate. Fresh off an NCAA title run, the Red Lions utilized their three foreign student-athletes Donald Tankoua, Arnaud Noah, and Eugene Toba.

Robert Bolick was the Red Lions’ primary offensive threat, averaging over 23 points per game. However, San Beda went winless in four outings and missed the quarterfinals, but not before putting up a fight against the UAE national team and Sagesse of Lebanon.

2019-2020: Mighty Sports

Mighty Sports was back in 2019, this time with two-time NBA champion Lamar Odom on the roster. Brownlee was back and was joined by Chinese Basketball Association veteran Randolph Morris. Also in the lineup were standout collegians Juan Gomez de Liaño, Santi Santillan, and Justin Gutang, along with Fil-Americans Jeremiah Gray, Roosevelt Adams, Jason Brickman, and Troy Rike.

Mighty Sports made it to the semifinals, where they lost to Al Riyadi of Lebanon. They salvaged third place with a win over Homenetmen Lebanon.

The following year, Mighty Sports was back with Blatche teaming up with former PBA import Renaldo Balkman, McKenzie Moore, and Hamady N’Diaye. Belga, Gray, Adams, Rike, and Brickman were also back. Among the newcomers were future PBA players Jamie Malonzo and Mikey Williams and amateur standouts Thirdy Ravena, the Gomez de Liaño brothers Juan and Javi, Isaac Go, and Dave Ildefonso.

Mighty Sports became the first Philippine team to win the championship, beating  Al-Riyadi of Lebanon in the title game with Balkman being named tournament MVP.

2023: Strong Group Athletics

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament returned in 2023 with Strong Group Athletics representing the Philippines.

Balkman was back and was joined by fellow NBA veterans Shabazz Muhammad and Nick Young and Fil-Am Sedrick Barefield. Unlike previous years where a handful of current or former PBA players were on the team, Strong Group picked amateur standouts to fill out the roster. These included Justine Baltazar, JD Cagulangan, Will Gozum, Kevin Quiambao, Jerom Lastimosa and Francis Lopez.

Strong Group went 3-1 in their group to advance to the quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual champions Al Riyadi of Lebanon, 106-97.

Banner image from Dubai Basketball Championship on Facebook.

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