Justine Baltazar, Will Gozum join Strong Group team for Dubai tilt
MANILA, Philippines — Strong Group Philippines continues to beef up its roster with the addition of former Japan B.League import Justine Baltazar, reigning NCAA MVP Will Gozum, and four-time UAAP champion BJ Andrade ahead of the 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship from January 27 to February 5.
Coach Charles Tiu revealed that Baltazar and Gozum, his player from College of Saint Benilde, will play for the Filipino squad, bannered by former NBA cagers Nick Young and Renaldo Balkman.
Strong Group, owned by Ateneo standout Jacob Lao, also signed Season 85 champions Andrade and Inand Fornilos to reunite with Finals MVP Ange Kouame and team up with Sedrick Barefield.
Tiu is elated to coach the 6-foot-7 Baltazar, who recently parted ways with the Hiroshima Dragonflies in the Japan B.League.
“Balti is going to be big for us, he wasn’t given much of a chance in Japan but the kid is a great player and I plan to use him as a big wing and power forward, but of course, it all remains to be seen on how it will look when we start practicing,” said the Strong Group coach of the Gilas Pilipinas cadet.
Baltazar is currently part of the Pampanga G Lanterns in the Pilipinas Super League while he negotiates with the Korean Basketball League.
The Blazers coach said Gozum needs to fight for his minutes but the Dubai stint will be a fruitful experience for his player, who helped St Benilde reach the NCAA Season 98 Finals.
“Will will have to compete with the other guys for his minutes. It’s a whole different ball game and he’s playing the same position as the imports, but let’s see how he will fare,” Tiu said.
Lao, the young team owner, was happy with their new signings, especially his college teammates Andrade and Fornillos.
“Balti will finally get that chance to prove himself again in a very competitive tournament so I’m very excited for him. and for the other players, it’s rare that a team has the reigning NCAA MVP in Will Gozum, a four-time UAAP champion in BJ Andrade, the championship experience of an athletic 3 and D guy in Inand Fornilos, they’re all winners in their own ways and their experience will surely help the team for them,” Lao said.
“It is a rare opportunity for these players to further grow and learn a new style of play internationally. They’re all very talented individuals who can complement and play specific roles that the team needs,” he added.
Strong Group is set to announce more players but it is still waiting for clearance from the NCAA and UAAP.
The Filipino squad, led by Young and Balkman, tries to sustain the title run achieved by Mighty Sports in the 2020 Dubai International Basketball Championship.