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MANILA, Philippines – This year’s Strong Group Athletics squad assembled one of the most stacked Philippine teams in the Dubai International Basketball Championship.
Well, at least on paper.
Aside from Strong Group, the 12-team tournament will feature formidable squads with battle-tested ethos from parts of Asia and Africa.
Here are some contenders to watch out for in Dubai:
Al Riyadi (Lebanon)
Al Riyadi may ring a bell for Filipino fans.
The champion of last year’s edition, Al Riyadi has etched itself as one of Lebanon’s premier basketball teams.
Al Riyadi eliminated the Philippine contingent en route to the Dubai crown last year. This year, it will parade almost the same core of players for its title-retention bid.
Ever familiar to Filipino fans, Wael Arakji leads Al Riyadi alongside fellow national team player Amir Saoud in Dubai.
Saoud most notably posted 41 points with seven triples as Al Riyadi gave Strong Group, then led by former NBA player Shabazz Muhammad and Renaldo Balkman, the boot in the knockout quarterfinals.
Former NBA player Manny Harris and national team member Elmedin Kikanovic will reinforce the decorated Lebanese crew.
Unlike Strong Group, Al Riyadi has the benefit of long preparation and familiarity. The team is in the middle of its Lebanese Division 1 league campaign, where it has won five straight games before going to Dubai.
Al Riyadi also ruled the first-ever FIBA West Asia Super League last year before regaining the Lebanese league title in the 2022-2023 season.
Al Ahly Benghazi (Libya)
Libya’s top team Al Ahly Benghazi will also be in the way of the Strong Group in Dubai.
After winning the title in its domestic league, Al Ahly Benghazi represented Libya in the qualifying tournament for the 2024 Basketball Africa League season, a league started by the NBA and FIBA.
Al Ahly Benghazi placed third in its group to make the cut for the BAL and it will use the Dubai tiff to prepare for the African league.
Considered one of the most popular teams in Libya, Al Ahly Benghazi will parade former PBA import Tony Mitchell in addition to Ivorian guard Souleyman Diabate.
Diabate will be the player to watch for the Libyan squad as he averaged 13.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in the BAL qualification.
Sports Club Beirut (Lebanon)
Beirut Club boasts a pedigree few in the Dubai tournament can match.
Beirut Club crowned itself the Doha International Basketball Championship kings, besting PBA club Meralco Bolts and six other teams, and then topped the Arab Club Championship last year.
The Lebanese crew won the Dubai tilt in 2019, when Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalized star Justin Brownlee and former NBA champion Lamar Odom reinforced Mighty Sports Philippines.
Dar Tucker, who powered Jordan past Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Philippine Arena last year, will be the leading man for Beirut Club.
Another familiar name in its roster is Lebanese big man Ali Haidar, who averaged 12 points in the World Cup.
Beirut Club is bunched in Group B together with Strong Group, Lebanon’s Homenetmen, Libya’s Al Ahly Tripoli, Syria’s Al Wahda, and the UAE national team.
Group A features Al Riyadi, Al Ahly Benghazi, UAE’s Al Nasr, Morocco’s As Sale, Lebanon’s Sagesse, and the Tunisian national team. – Rappler.com