Kouame knows pressure of being PH’s naturalized player, vows to be at his best for country
The weight of his new distinction is not lost on Ange Kouame, the Philippine cage program’s newly-naturalized player.And neither the mental baggage that comes with it.
“Of course, there is pressure,“ he told Inquirer’s SportsIQ on Friday.
“I’m the youngest naturalized player. I feel the pressure.” Kouame, originally from the Ivory Coast, acquired Filipino citizenship by way of a bill that President Duterte signed into law earlier this week.
He follows the footsteps of Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche—the latter, a well-traveled pro and an NBA veteran—who were both integral in the Philippines’ first World Cup appearance in 36 years.
Kouame knows exactly how massive the shoes he is about to fill with his new role at Gilas Pilipinas. And he is perfectly fine with that—a rarity among most cagers his age.
“The thing is, I know the kind of player I am,” he said. “So to be focused on goals, to be able to move forward, [to] learn from mistakes—that’s my mindset.
“The pressure, I cannot deny that,” he added. “I’m just going with the flow and praying to God that everything goes well.”
One simply needs to look at Kouame’s age to understand how the role of the 6-foot-10 star out of Ateneo differs from his predecessors. Douthit was naturalized when he was already 31 and Blatche when he was 28. Kouame, already with a high-IQ, tireless motor and a highly developable skillset at 23, gives the national program a foundational piece it could build around for years to come.
Jong Uichico, the coach of Gilas Pilipinas squad in the last window of the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers said Kouame’s age is perfect for the program as it gives the national team time to give the athletic beanpole a chance to gain international exposure.
“That’s the great thing, Kouame has time to gain international experience because he is young and willing to learn,” Uichico said.
Former national coaches Chot Reyes of TNT and Yeng Guiao of NLEX also had good words for Kouame, saying he was perfect for the national team because his being based here allows him to grow with the squad.“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,” said Guiao.
“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 added.
Another former national coach, Norman Black of Meralco, said Kouame will have the chance to grow alongside young bigs like the 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto and the 6-foot-10 AJ Edu.
“We’re not just big, we’re huge,” Black said.
Kouame was thankful for the show of confidence from the coaches but, in an indication of just how right he is for the job, he said he envisions himself as a work in progress.
“As a player, I know I lack a lot in certain areas. But each day is a way for me to get better,” said Kouame.
“That is all that’s in my mind right now: being a better version of myself,” he added.
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