Mighty avenges Al Riyadi heartbreak with first Dubai title

MANILA, Philippines – It took 3 tries over 4 years, but Mighty Sports Philippines finally copped the Dubai International Basketball Championship.

Not only did the Charles Tiu-coached squad become the first team outside the Middle East to win it all after 3 decades of competition, but it did so with a personal vendetta against its finals foe Al Riyadi Lebanon.

One year after the Philippine team fell to the eventual champions in the semifinals and bowed out of contention, Mighty retooled, and this time, blew Al Riyadi off its throne with a 92-81 finish in the winner-take-all finals match on Sunday, February 2, Manila time.

"It's great," said Tiu after winning his first title with Mighty since sweeping the 2019 William Jones Cup. "It's a great feeling as we made up for a heartbreaking loss in the semis last year. This year it feels nice."

Former NBA player Renaldo Balkman continued to flex his dominance in Asia as he was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, ahead of teammate and fellow top league veteran Andray Blatche.

Less than 24 hours after scoring 29 points in a tight 80-76 semifinals win against AS Sale Morocco, the 35-year-old Puerto Rican star again erupted for 25 markers in the title-winning game early Sunday morning.

Blatche was no slouch, either, as he averaged a double-double of 17 points and 11.2 rebounds with 4.2 assists in his first stint with the Philippines after being let go as Gilas Pilipinas' longtime naturalized player.

Mighty also took the opportunity to showcase the country's brightest young stars as Thirdy Ravena, Jamie Malonzo, Mikey Williams, Juan Gomez de Liaño, and Dave Ildefonso showed off their respective strengths in whatever time was given to them on the floor.

Given Mighty's recent streak of international success, team owner Alexander Wongchuking is already raring to join more tournaments to further strengthen the program and give Filipinos abroad a piece of home wherever they play.

"We are overjoyed with the team's latest achievement. We never thought [we would] win the event, much more by a sweep despite the short time of preparation," he said.

"Given another chance, we will continue to compete here or even in Taiwan just to give Filipino migrant workers a different entertainment." – Rappler.com