No surprise, Ateneo’s Kouame is MVP derby leader
Eight games into Season 84 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament and after eight straight Ateneo wins that have the Blue Eagles setting the pace to the surprise of no one, Ange Kouame leads University of the Philippines (UP) rising star Zavier Lucero in the Most Valuable Player (MVP) derby.
The surprise here is that the Ivorian center, naturalized last year to help lead the Philippines in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup next year, is holding just a slight edge over the game Maroon.
With the Ateneo playing time being spread all around by the brilliant Tab Baldwin, Kouame has a 68-statistical point (SP) average, just one point ahead of Lucero as the Eagles continue to maintain the mentality of never going for individual awards.
Meanwhile, an Inquirer source on Wednesday said that Joaquin Manuel of La Salle is likely to face a stiff penalty from the Commissioner’s Office after a dangerous tackle on Kouame in a 75-68 win on Tuesday night that extended the Eagles’ mastery of the Green Archers to an astounding 34 games.
Manuel gave Kouame a dangerous hit to the knee in a rebound play that the referees saw. The La Salle guard was slapped an unsportsmanlike foul and that incident sort of triggered a 21-4 Ateneo breakaway.
The same source said that a suspension is likely because Manuel was already issued a stern warning for rough play in the first round.
Kouame averaged 12.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in just over 26 minutes per contest which is the longest by anyone in the loaded Ateneo lineup. Backup center Geo Chiu is playing at a rate of almost 11 minutes per contest, as coaching staff is making sure that everyone in the squad would have fresh legs come the Final Four.
Lucero, meanwhile, is playing almost 27 minutes per game and has clearly made it clear that he is the new face of this squad, which has a seven-game winning streak and is running second going into the Holy Week break.
“It’s flattering, but like I said, we have one goal in this team,” Lucero said in an earlier interview after MVP chants broke out from the UP crowd when it was released that he led the league in scoring after the first round with an average of 15.4 points per game. “There will be no individual accolade that will make a difference if we fail in what we set out to do.
“As long as we stay focused on that goal, then I like where we’re at,” Lucero said.
La Salle big man Justine Baltazar is running a distant third in the MVP race with an average of 58 SPs.
UP’s Carl Tamayo was the lone rookie in the Top 5, tied with Far Eastern University center Emman Ojuola for fourth place at 57 SPs.