Kouame wants to have own part in storied Gilas-Sokor rivalry
Ange Kouame will surely make his national team debut on Wednesday when Gilas Pilipinas opens the third window of its Asian Cup Qualifying series at Clark Freeport in Angeles, Pampanga province.
Though Gilas coaching staff has understandably kept its cards close to its chest as far as the roster for the first game goes, it is easy to see that Kouame will be a part of the 12-man team that battles South Korea since he has been with the program since the beginning.
And he’s raring to go.
“I’ve been waiting for so long. I’m really excited. I’m pretty hyped up, too,” Kouame said in a Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas interview released to media outlets on Monday afternoon.
Kouame, who was made Filipino by law last May, is apparently already up to speed on the rich cage history between the Philippines and Korea.
A big question would be Kai Sotto, the 7-foot-3 teen prodigy who wasn’t able to turn in the practice time with the team after serving the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
“I’ve heard (about) the losses. They actually told me it was here when the Philippines last won,” the Ateneo standout said, referring to the emotional 2013 upset of the Koreans in the semifinals that sent the Philippines to the Fiba World Cup in Spain the following year.
“It was really a great thing for the people and especially for the organization. So yeah, I’ll try to get myself into it, too,” he added.
And it’s not only that boundless excitement and passion that Kouame is hoping to bring once he steps on the court.
The 6-foot-10 center hopes to show the fruits of the team’s labor of months and months of training inside a bubble setup in Laguna.
“It was a long (training) camp. We got to know each other better, got to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Kouame said.
“It actually worked out because now we know each other and what each of us is capable on the court,” he went on.
Newly reappointed coach Tab Baldwin will make three cuts on Tuesday for the final roster against the Koreans, whom the Filipinos will play twice. Gilas will also have a match with Indonesia with the home team needing to win just once to advance.
Expected to also easily make the final roster are Isaac Go and Dwight Ramos as both played in the first three games of the qualifying windows for Baldwin. Jordan Heading, a backcourt operator who once suited up for Batang Gilas, is also expected to make the cut after injuries to guards Matt Nieto and Rey Suerte.
Sotto’s debut with the men’s team is also being eagerly awaited. He was in the country two months ago for this window, only for it to be canceled because of the spike in COVID-19 cases then.
That trip back home actually cost him his spot in the Ignite team in the NBA G League, which at that time was playing a tournament inside the Disney bubble in Orlando where the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 NBA title.
But having less than a week to train with the nationals would obviously have a bearing when Baldwin decides on the final composition as there is a possibility that he can disrupt the chemistry the team has achieved being together for so long now.
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