Apart from playing alongside ex-NBA stars, De La Salle University big man Kevin Quiambao will also be sharing the floor with former Green Archer Justine Baltazar when Strong Group Realty formally opens its Dubai International Basketball Tournament 2023 campaign on Friday.
In what has become an unlikely aligning of stars, Quiambao was added to the Strong Group lineup last Wednesday as a late replacement for ailing center Ange Kouame, joining Baltazar, as well as co-UAAP stalwarts like Jerom Lastimosa, BJ Andrade, JD Cagulangan, and Francis "Lebron" Lopez.
The rare opportunity to team up with Baltazar -- who closed his UAAP career after just one season before Quiambao joined the collegiate ranks -- makes the stint even more special for the Season 85 Rookie of the Year.
"Sobrang saya dahil nakasama ko ulit siya. Sa La Salle, sa Team B ko lang siya nakalaro," Quiambao opened up. "Kami naman ni Kuya Balty, parehas lang kaming sumusunod sa sistema."
In his rookie year in the UAAP, Quiambao averaged 11.23 points, 6.54 rebounds, 3.23 assists, and 1.08 steals.
Baltazar, meanwhile, went on to pursue a post-college career which saw stops at the NBL-Pilipinas and the Japan B.League. After his Strong Group appearance, the 6-foot-9 center will see action for Korean side Seoul Samsung Thunders.
Already a Gilas Pilipinas mainstay, Quiambao is thankful to be included in Strong Group's final roster as a replacement, giving him the chance to play competitive hoops with established names in both the collegiate and pro ranks.
"Sobrang blessed lang na nakasama sa team na ‘to kahit late na. Sobrang dami kailangan i-catch up pero thankful ako kina Coach Charles (Tiu) na isa ako sa pamalit nila kay Ange (Kouame)," he said.
Wearing the same uniform as those he faced in the UAAP is also a welcome change in scenery for the 6-foot-8 big man.
"Nothing different, alam namin ang role namin sa team, it’s about 'yung koponan. Sobrang saya na sa UAAP kalaban ko sila, pero dito kakampi ko sila," Quiambao added.
In just two days with the team, Quiambao has already impressed no less than Strong Group's imports, who commended him for his feathery touch around the rim and his high basketball IQ.
"Kevin was great. He has a great touch around the rim, I noticed. That floater. He will help us space the floor, get rebounds, we needed his presence and it’s going to be good for us," Shabazz Muhammad said.
"His IQ is really good. It’s something that we really need. We are going to be playing some really strong teams. He proved himself, and I’m excited to play with him."
Such high praise makes Quiambao cherish this stint, knowing no matter how short the stay is, the experience will add important pages to his ongoing basketball journey.
"May mga pangalan ang mga kasama ko, ex-NBA players. Humbled akong matuto sa kanila and ‘yung experience na makasama sila is once in a lifetime, so I will take it as a lesson," he said.