MANILA, Philippines—Mighty Sports head coach Charles Tiu expects nothing less than a tough challenge when his team competes in the 2019 edition of the Dubai International Basketball Championship next month.
Mighty Sports is one of 10 squads playing in the tournament, which includes teams from Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
"Well, we want to win," Tiu said when asked of their goal for the competition. "That's our goal, really. We join tournaments to win."
But he is also the first to acknowledge that it is a goal much easier said than done. Historically, Philippine teams have not had much luck in the Dubai tournament, failing to win even when they sent the national team to compete.
"This tournament is really tough. This is my fourth time. Basically, this tournament, I don’t think the Philippine team has ever won in this tournament," Tiu noted.
"Even the last time that the Gilas (Pilipinas) squad, with sila Coach Chot (Reyes), that group, they didn't do too well either in this tournament," he said. "Back in the day, Gilas under (Rajko) Toroman, they made it to the finals once, (and) they lost."
"It's tough," he stressed.
One reason the Philippines has struggled to find success in the Dubai tilt is that the game in the Middle East is "very different," according to Tiu, in terms of its physicality. The level of competition is also remarkably high. Tiu and co. will play against Lebanese teams that are in the middle of their own professional basketball season, along with teams that are preparing for the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
The African teams in the field — Tunisia and Morocco — have dominated in the past couple of years.
"They're tall, they're physical. It's always a big challenge for us," said Tiu.
To make it all the more difficult for Mighty Sports, the squad does not have the luxury of a long preparation. Its third and most famous import, former NBA star Lamar Odom, arrived just last week.
"We probably are gonna have what? Five, six practices in total before playing our first game," said Tiu. "For guys who've never played with each other, that's a big challenge."
There are some members of the team who have played in the Dubai tournament before, namely Jett Manuel and Justin Brownlee. Both of them agree with their coach.
"I know the competition we're going up against, and it's very tough," said Manuel, who teamed up with Brownlee, Chris Tiu, Beau Belga, Kiefer Ravena and Jeron Teng in 2017. Also included in that team were JC Intal, Willie Miller, and Ryan Arana, among others.
Brownlee still remembers how his teammates won just one game in 2017, after playing "some really good teams."
"You know, we definitely know it's not gonna be easy, but hopefully we can just have a better outcome," he said. "You know we didn't play well last time, we only won one game, so hopefully this year, we're gonna expect a tough fight but hopefully we can have a different outcome."
Given their circumstances, "a different outcome" seems to be the best-case scenario for Mighty Sports.
"Sana, maka-champion kami," said Tiu. "But if not, at least, maybe maka semifinals."
"I think that would be a victory already for us," he added.
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