With Clarkson arrival looming, Kouame says he’s still ready to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas
As Gilas Pilipinas awaits the arrival of Utah Jazz star Jordan Clarkson, the national program’s other naturalized talent Ange Kouame made it clear he is ready to serve the country when needed.
“At the end of the day, it’s something that I chose. And I love my job, too,” he told reporters on Thursday, during Ateneo’s sendoff for the World University Basketball Series, a pocket tournament in Japan the Blue Eagles are looking to utilize for their bid to reclaim the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball crown.
“No matter what is going to happen, I’m still going to represent [the Philippines]; I’m still going to be present for the national team,” the reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player added.
The 6-foot-10 center’s commitment was reinforced by Ateneo team manager Epok Quimpo, who stressed that “the call to play for the national team is the priority, of course, given that the World Cup is already next year.”
Kouame, an Ivory Coast native, was made Filipino by way of legislation in May last year. He was initially billed as a cornerstone for the program when the team was still handled by Tab Baldwin, who is also his coach in Ateneo.
The 24-year-old center’s role slowly diminished as Gilas tried to rebuild from the rubble of Baldwin’s resignation from the program. Compounding that was a partial ACL tear Kouame sustained back in May, which essentially scrubbed him from the talent pool from which Chot Reyes assembled his rosters.
Kouame’s return to the national team, as things stand, remains murky as Clarkson is shaping up as one of the shoo-ins for the 2023 Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup squad.
Clarkson is still classified as a naturalized player by the international cage body despite his lineage. And with Fiba allowing national teams just one naturalized player, Kouame could lose his spot in the Gilas Pilipinas squad to the World Cup.
Clarkson has been tapped by the national basketball program for this month’s window of the World Cup Qualifiers which Gilas is using for its buildup for the global showcase here in August next year. The one-time Sixth Man of the Year winner in the National Basketball Association was scheduled to arrive initially on Aug. 15, but Reyes has said that arrival might be moved a few days.
Kouame, meanwhile, said he will be free to reinforce Gilas again when Season 85 of the UAAP is done. But he hasn’t discounted the possibility of also playing overseas.
“[A]fter this [coming] season, I have plans to be overseas,” Kouame said. “We’ll never know how things will go. It depends on how things go.” Kouame said he isn’t privy to how Gilas Pilipinas plans to use its naturalized player slot or any other issues surrounding the national team—or at least, he is not telling.
“I don’t want to give you any hints eh, because of you people…” he said with a chuckle. “But for sure, I have options. We’ll figure it out after the season—after the UAAP season.”
The national team is also waiting for word from Kai Sotto, the 7-foot-3 center who also figured prominently in Baldwin’s recent squads.
Sotto is currently linked with the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian pro league.
National coach Reyes is set to meet with the Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff, including Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone, to discuss the composition of the pool for the coming Fiba windows.