//Highlights
Strong Group’s Jones Cup Team: Fresh Faces, Household Names 

Potent Mix: The Fresh Faces and Household Names in Strong Group’s Jones Cup Squad 

A month from now, we’ll see Strong Group’s newest 13-man roster compete in the 2024 William Jones Cup in Thailand. 

July is shaping up to be a packed month for Filipino hoops fans. On top of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Latvia to kick off the month, there’s also the 43rd Jones Cup, which will be held in Taiwan from July 13 to 21. 

The Jones Cup is an international tournament where club, national, or even collegiate teams will represent their respective countries. The Philippines is no stranger to this competition, having won six titles in the annual tournament. The last title came in 2019, which featured a Mighty Sports squad that included Roosevelt Adams, Aaron Black, and former NBA player Renaldo Balkman among others. 

This year, the Philippines will be represented by Strong Group Athletics, who recently flew the flag in the Dubai International Basketball Championship last January.

A month before the Jones Cup kicks off, we’ve gotten Strong Group’s 13-man roster for the tilt which includes:

  • Kiefer Ravena (Yokohama B-Corsairs, Japan B.League)
  • Jordan Heading (West Adelaide Bearcats, Australian NBL1)
  • Jonathan Manalili (Letran Knights, NCAA)
  • RJ Abarrientos (Shinshu Brave Warriors, Japan B.League)
  • Tony Ynot (College of St. Benilde, NCAA)
  • Dave Ildefonso (Suwon KT Sonicboom, KBL)
  • Allen Liwag (College of St. Benilde, NCAA)
  • DJ Fenner (Heroes Den Bosch, Bnxt League)
  • Rhenz Abando (free agent)
  • Chris McCullough (Formosa Dreamers, Taiwan P.League+)
  • Ange Kouame (Chartres Métropole, Nationale Basketball 1)
  • Tajuan Agee (BCM Gravelines-Dunkerque,  LNB Élite)
  • Calean Tiongson (free agent)
Overseas, Gilas tenures

Overseas experience is a common trend in this lineup. Ravena is coming off a B2.League championship run, where his guard play was key to the Shiga Lakestars’ return to the B1.League for next season. 

Manong’s play didn’t go unnoticed either, as this resulted in a new contract with the Yokohama B.Corsairs, where he’ll link up with reigning B.League MVP and rising star Yuki Kawamura. 

There’s also Jordan Heading, whose sharpshooting and shiftiness have earned him stints across Taiwan, Japan, and currently Australia. Without question, he and Ravena will provide valuable ball-handling and shot creation to this team. 

On top of their club careers, the veteran guards also have Gilas Men’s experience. Ravena last appeared in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, while Heading was last in uniform for the non-bearing World Cup qualifier against Lebanon. 

strong group jones cup: Kiefer
Fresh off a B.League title, Kiefer Ravena will now be a key player for this Jones Cup-bound squad. (Photo Credit: Japan B.League on Instagram)

Heading is also a holdover from Strong Group’s Dubai crew, alongside the NCAA’s Liwag and Ynot who plays for Tiu’s CSB Blazers.

Strong Group’s new faces in Fil-Am guard DJ Fenner and American big Tajuan Agee have also earned their stripes abroad. Fenner, a 6-foot-6 guard, most recently played in the Belgium and Netherlands’ Bnxt League. As a tall guard, he’ll be another ball handler for this team with ample shot creation.

A 6-foot-7 center per Strong Group, Tajuan Agee plays for the BCM Gravelines-Dunkerque of the French top-flight league LNB Élite. Given his outside shooting and mobility, Agee will likely function as a stretch big for this Jones Cup team.

Joining Agee is Caelan Tiongson, who’ll likely have more of the traditional inside presence when called upon. While less mobile than Agee, he’s also shown signs of having a jumpshot in the past.

On the fresher side of things is the group of Abando, Ildefonso, and Abarrientos. While he’s finding his stride in the B.League, Abarrientos has shown us his potential as a guard in the pros.

The same goes for Abando, whose natural gifts and overall game got him recruited by Anyang in the KBL in 2022. Currently a free agent, the Jones Cup will likely act as needed reps for Abando as he recovers from a freak spine injury he suffered in December last year.

Ildefonso, meanwhile, saw limited action in Korea. But by the time he left Tab Baldwin’s Ateneo, Dave had matured into someone who could contribute in the other aspects of the game such as defense and rebounding on top of overall hustle.

Homecomings

A welcome subplot here is a homecoming of sorts for McCullough and Kouame.

McCullough last played in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup in 2019 as an import for the San Miguel Beermen. Since then, the center has been vocal about wanting to be a naturalized player for Gilas. 

And even if it’s not Gilas, a part of McCullough’s desire will be fulfilled thanks to Strong Group and the Jones Cup. For the past five years, the former NBA big has continued to be an import in pro leagues worldwide, including his current Taiwan P.League+ run with the Formosa Dreamers.

strong group jones cup: McCullough
In some ways, Chris McCullough fulfills his dream of playing for the Philippines. (Photo Credit: Formosa Dreamers on Facebook)

A part of Gilas’ Asiad medal-winning crew, Kouame will also carry the Philippine flag again with the Jones Cup call-up. Earning his stripes in Ateneo, Kouame left for France shortly after the Asiad run in October to play for the Chartres Métropole in France’s Nationale Basketball 1 league.

With his Strong Group appearance, Ange now gets a chance to reunite with Ateneo teammate Ildefonso, as well as Abarrientos who he linked up with in the Tab Baldwin-era Gilas.

From the looks of it, exciting times lie ahead for this Strong Group contingent in the Jones Cup. With a mix of familiar faces and possible under-the-radar call-ups, we now await how this team performs once the international tilt kicks off on July 13.

Banner Image from Japan B.League on Instagram.


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