UAAP: Coming off injury, Ange Kouame still limited in practice
MANILA, Philippines—Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said Ange Kouame is being limited in practice as a precaution to the meniscal sprain and a partial ACL tear he sustained last June.
Baldwin bared the Gilas naturalized center only shot free throws on the eve of their rivalry game. Kouame, though, still played 32 minutes and posted 11 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, and three steals in Ateneo’s 68-54 victory over La Salle on Saturday in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“We have to really take care of that knee. So he takes a lot of practice off, and that affects his execution. He’s still a guy that’s young in the game, and he needs a lot of practice time,” Baldwin said after steering his team to its sixth win in nine outings for third place.
“Yesterday, he just shot free throws, and then you see a guy that plays 32 minutes and plays with energy and looks much more like the Ange that we’re all used to,” he added.
The reigning UAAP MVP, who bounced back from his two-point performance in their 78-74 loss to National University last Wednesday, is eager to regain his peak form to help the Blue Eagles in their bid to reclaim the title.
“I mean lately, so many things are running through my mind. Personally… I lack in execution. I drive myself hard to push myself to where I was and who I am, and what I try to become in the future. That really motivates me to push myself. I hope in the coming games, I can keep playing as much as I can,” Kouame said.
Baldwin said they are managing the load of the 6-foot-11 center, who will also join Gilas Pilipinas’ trip to the Middle East for their away matches against Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the fifth window of the Fiba World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers.
“The game that he played against NU, he came off of a… We did practice him the day before, and he had a Gilas practice the night before, and we just can’t do that to him. He’s not the Ange that we have had in the past,” he said. “So it’s a balancing act, ’cause we know we get some diminishing returns in terms of execution and some of his efficiencies go down. But we still have that big, aggressive body out there on the floor.”
Kouame may be away from the Blue Eagles during the Fiba break but Baldwin will still make the most of their break to continue building up for their title-redemption campaign.
“We will work hard. We have a lot of hard work to do, and I think that we will be looking for a game or two as well, just because our team plays too often like we’re inexperienced,” the Kiwi-American mentor said. “We have a lot of players who lack UAAP experience — UAAP minutes. And, you can only change that by playing. I’m not 100% sure what we’ll do.”
Kouame is confident his teammates will remain hungry and determined during the break.
“I see the guys in practice always go hard. I’m really happy to see them come together. For me personally, it’s the same thing. Try to be the best whenever I go to the court, and as much as I can, help the team and be able to be part of the system and do my job, do my part,” Kouame said.