Strong Group Athletics team including Dwight Howard playing in the Philippines in preparation for the Dubai International Basketball Championship

What It’s Like For These Filipinos to Play With an NBA All-Star

These Filipino basketball stars are using the opportunity to play with Dwight Howard to their advantage.

It’s not every day that Filipino basketball players get to play with a professional from the NBA, the biggest basketball league in the world. So when the rare opportunity to do so comes along, who wouldn’t take advantage of it? That’s certainly the mindset of the basketball players from the Philippines who will be playing alongside former NBA All-Star Dwight Howard in the upcoming Dubai International Basketball Championship.

Dwight Howard’s list of NBA career highlights goes a long way — champion in 2020, an eight-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a five-time rebounding leader, among several other major achievements — and he is taking his experience to the Philippines.

It’s hard for the Strong Group Athletics (SGA) Team to do much better than this as they approach the Dubai tournament. With Dwight’s level of experience, he not only brings a huge advantage to the team, but he also provides something valuable to his SGA teammates — the chance to learn from an NBA veteran.

This has been the mindset of the talented players on the SGA team.

Learning from one of the best

Representing Strong Group Athletics in the upcoming Dubai International Basketball Championship is an incredible crop of players.

This year, the Philippine team is boasting Dwight Howard, former NBA player Andre Roberson, former PBA import McKenzie Moore, former Gilas Pilipinas men Andray Blatche, Justine Baltazar, and Jordan Heading, UAAP stars Kevin Quiambao, JD Cagulangan, and Francis Escandor, and College of St. Benilde players Tony Ynot, Allen Liwag, and Justine Sanchez.

Indeed, the SGA team is spoiled for talent. But, coach Charles Tiu ensures that every player is putting his ego aside for the team. “It’s one thing we talked about even before signing them,” Tiu shared to the media after a training session on January 10. “You have to understand your role. We tell them to look at the bigger picture — we have seven games in 10 days so it’s not easy on the body. Maybe in one game, someone is stepping up and in another game, it’s somebody else. But so far, the egos have been really good, so it’s been good for us.”

Strong Group Athletics team including Dwight Howard playing in the Philippines in preparation for the Dubai International Basketball Championship
(Photo credit: Dwight Howard on Instagram)

Of course, signing a former NBA star, Tiu also had his expectations of what Dwight Howard would bring to the table. “When we signed [Howard], a lot of people were saying that he’s gonna give you so many problems, but he hasn’t given us any problems. He’s been really supportive of what we’ve been doing,” he shared.

With Dwight’s support, even the other players on the team get to learn from his experiences and pick his brains. One player, in particular, was very eager to learn and took advantage of this opportunity right from their first day of training.

Noong una, ‘di ko ma-explain ‘yung feeling,” UAAP Season 86 MVP Kevin Quiambao expressed. “Akala ko nga, nananaginip lang ako na kasama ko sila. Dati, pinapanood ko lang, ngayon, kasama ko na. Kung ano pwede kong matutunan sa kanila, [I will take advantage of it].”

Quiambao shared that growing up, Dwight Howard was actually one of his biggest idols, and when he started playing in college, he also started to look up to Andre Roberson. Thus, when he got the chance, he made sure to ask them all the questions he had.

Kevin Quiambao training for the Strong Group Athletics Team ahead of the Dubai International Basketball Championship
(Photo credit: Strong Group Athletics, from Kevin Quiambao on Instagram)

Noong first practice namin, tinanong ko sila kung paano ‘yung depensa sa NBA, at lahat ng tactics nila technically...May mga things na na-coveer ni Kuya Dwight na pinagdaanan niya sa NBA, so ‘yung mga defense tactics at offense, kung paano mag-set ng space ng tama, at ‘yung pagbabasa ng sitwasyon.

Fellow LaSallian and former UAAP champion Justine Baltazar also shared similar sentiments to Quiambao. He also shared that he is using this incredible opportunity as a way to learn and grow as a player. “As a big man, kailangan marami akong matutunan [from Howard],” Baltazar shared.

While the local players are surely relishing this opportunity, the feeling is mutual. Even the former NBA players themselves have sung praises for their teammates.

“We got the greatest shooters, the greatest defenders, we got the greatest passer in Dray Blatche. We got some good guys on the team,” Dwight Howard told the media.

Andre Roberson was also similarly impressed by the talent of the youngsters on the Strong Group Athletics squad. “They’re all impressive,” he said. “They’re a great group of guys on and off the court, hard-working on a daily basis and going out there and putting it all together.”

With the team that Strong Group Athletics has put together, Dwight himself recognizes that they will be among the teams to beat in the Dubai International Championship. But, he, along with the rest of the team are ready to take on the challenge. “I think everyone’s gonna be gunning for us, so we understand that. That’s why the guys are so locked in and focused on what we need to deliver today to get better.”

Banner image from Dwight Howard on Instagram.

Dwight Howard Takes Pride in Representing The Philippines

Erik Spoelstra: The NBA Legend Who Looks Like Me

Which NBA Teams Have The Biggest Fanbases In The Philippines?