Dubai, United Arab Emirates—Team Mighty Sports-Philippines lived up to its billing with a dominant 87-58 victory over American University in Dubai on Friday night in the Dubai International Basketball Championships at the jampacked Al Ahli Club gymnasium here.
Cheered on by a pre-dominantly pro-PH club crowd that filled up the 4,000-seater arena, the Filipino cagers flexed their muscles early on and never let up for an auspicious start in the most prestigious invitational cage tournament in the Middle East being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Justin Brownlee came off the bench and led the attack with 17 points in just nine attempts, highlighted by three triples, on top of six boards in 18 minutes of play while big man Randolph Morris showcased his playmaking ability with a game-high four assists aside from 14 points and six rebounds to help the Mighty Sports’ cause.
Fil-Am wingman Jeremiah Gray also came up big with 15 points, including an emphatic jam in the second period, while former Ginebra stalwart Jett Manuel proved he still has it with 12 points, spiked by two treys, underlining the solid support provided by Mighty Sports’ locals.
“We played a good game, but I don’t think this is the real competition. This is probably the weakest team in the whole tournament,” said Mighty Sports coach Charles Tiu, trying his best to tone down the hype over the confidence-building win against an AUD side composed mostly of collegiate players.
Still, the accessories and apparel team backed by SMDC, HealthCube Medical Clinics, Go for Gold and Oriental Game sent a strong message to its future rivals that it is a force to be reckoned with this time after a nightmarish debut in the annual cage spectacle back in 2017.
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Lamar Odom, arguably the poster boy of the Philippine-based team, struggled with just four points on 2-of-10 shooting but did account for seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and a block in his first competitive in over four years much to the delight of Mighty Sports owner Alex Wongchuking.
“He may have yet to show his sharp form of old but we are more than glad to see him enjoy the sport that he loves,” said Wongchuking. “He played most to the crowd and for sure, he will only get better from hereon.”
Up next for Mighty Sports is an expected tough test in fellow Group A member, host UAE national team, on Saturday at 7 p.m. (11 p.m., Manila time) at the same venue.
Mahmoud Trab led all scorers with 20 points while Mansour Mbengue added 10 points for AUD, which scored the match’s—and the tourney edition’s—first three points off a Melvin Johnson triple.
Then it was all Mighty Sports, with Brownlee at the forefront of their torrid attack before Gray, Morris and Manuel joined the fray in the second period for a comfortable 47-20 lead at the break.
The Filipino cagers led by as many as 35 points in the second half that virtually turned into a glorified scrimmage, with most of the Filipino fans relishing every highlight reel shown by the likes of Gray and guard Juan Gomez de Liano.
Mighty Sports 87—Brownlee 17, Gray 15, Morris 14, Manuel 12, Banal 8, Adams 7, Odom 4, Santillan 4, Gomez de Liano 4, Wongchuking 2, Gutang 0, Yeo 0.
AUD 58—Trab 20, Mbengue 10, Faroug 8, Morgan 6, Johnson 5, Bin Khatam 3, Farah 2, Albreiki 2, Ferns 2, Mohammed 0, El Ali 0.
Quarterscores: 23-9, 47-20, 68-37, 87-58