With Kouame now Filipino, Gilas program has front-line cornerstone it can build on
Ange Kouame is now a Filipino, and Gilas Pilipinas has that quality big man fit for the international game that it sorely needs—for so many years to come.
The 6-foot-10 Kouame will first play for the Philippines in the third window of the Asia Cup Qualifying from June 16 to June 20 in a bubble in Clark and former national coach Norman Black was excited when he heard the news about the Ivorian center’s naturalization.
“That’s great for Philippine basketball,” Black, the Meralco coach who is in Ilocos Norte for the Bolts’ PBA preparations, told the Inquirer over the phone. “He is the kind of player the national team really needs.”
“You can’t go wrong with height,” Black added. “We (other coaches) have been saying that for a long time now.”
Kouame will join the 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto and the 6-foot-10 AJ Edu as the cornerstone of a front line for the country, particularly as it is looking to not only be a great cohost for the 2023 Fiba World Cup but to do well on the floor as well.
“With Kouame, Kai and AJ, we’re not only big, we’re huge now,” Black said. “We have the shooters we can surround our big guys with,” Black said. “We also have the playmakers for them.”
Meanwhile coach Jong Uichico, who handled the national team in the last window, said having Kouame is a huge benefit to the national program.
“The upside is huge with these young tall guys,” Uichico told the Inquirer. “Kouame is young and he has all the time to gain experience in the international arena and he has time to grow with the team. The international tournaments between now and 2023 will really help unlock that upside.”
With his citizenship signed into law by President Duterte on Tuesday, Kouame, just 23 years old, is a departure from all the other naturalized players that the Philippines has had over the years who were in their early 30s and doing their swan songs wearing the Gilas red-white-and-blue.
Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche served the Philippines well, but having someone as young as Kouame training all-year round with the national team is a plus in itself.
Not all about the money
“It’s important that he grows with the team, continues to learn the Filipino culture itself on and off the court,” said Yeng Guiao, who handled a Gilas squad with Jordan Clarkson in the 2018 Asian Games. “Aside from what I feel that he is really the type of player we need, his growth [with the team] will develop not only physically but also with a sense of intimacy.
“There is now emotional involvement here, and it’s not all about the money with Kouame,” Guiao said.
Chot Reyes, who coached the Philippines to a World Cup win over Senegal in Spain in 2014, also believes that Kouame would be the best fit. Like Guiao, he feels the emotional attachment and Koaume being ever-present in the country are keys.
“Aside from having the tools to be an international big man, what Kouame brings to that team—his presence in the country—is the most important thing,” Reyes said. “With him here, he can grow with the team and will know just about everyone in the team.”
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), through its president, Al Panlilio, broke the news and thanked President Duterte and his administration for signing the Kouame bill into law. The SBP also got a lot of help from its chair, Sen. Sonny Angara and Senators Joel Villanueva and Richard Gordon together with Rep. Robbie Puno, the SBP vice chair who authored the bill in the House.
The possibility of being an Asian powerhouse again resurfaced, according to Black, as the Philippines will have the height to play against countries like Iran, South Korea and China.
“Kouame can defend, rebound. He may not be an outside threat, but he is working hard on that and that’s what makes him a good player,” Black went on. “He can block shots, too, but he would need to work on that aspect of his game moving forward to the next level.”
“That’s really good news for us,” said Willie Marcial, the PBA commissioner. “The National team really needs a permanent fixture there in terms of a naturalized big man. He will be a great help to the country’s cause, I’m sure.”
Marcial also bared that he will have no second thoughts agreeing to Gilas seeing action in the 46th Season should the National Five need it.
“Whatever the PBA can do to help in terms of giving our young team experience and exposure, the PBA will be welcoming them with open arms.”
Kouame will be backstopping a team made up of Gilas Cadets in the Qualifying tournament, and Black feels that for the Philippines to be a force in Asia—and to contend in the World Cup—Gilas would need all the PBA players that it can get because “they’re still the best players in the country.”
Having Kouame for a long time now and knowing that he’s not going away anytime soon to play somewhere else, is the biggest thing why Black, Guiao and Reyes feel he will be very effective. INQ
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