By ADRIAN STEWART CO
Ivorian center Angelo Kouame is set for his Gilas Pilipinas debut when they take on South Korea in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers tonight at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Clark, Pampanga.
The 6-foot-10 Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles center said he is excited to finally don the national men’s basketball team colors after his naturalization was granted by President Rodrigo Duterte last month.
“I am super excited. I felt like it would be good for me to be part of it. I’ve been waiting for that (naturalization) for so long so I feel happy and blessed about it, now it’s going to happen,” Kouame said in an interview with ONE PH’s The Chasedown.
“I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything yet. I try to get myself motivated, keep pushing and keep moving forward. I’m still a learner of this game, I take every day as a step and keep improving with my game,” he added.
Kouame, a three-time UAAP champion with the Blue Eagles, was one of the 16 players brought in by returning national men’s basketball team head coach Thomas “Tab” Baldwin for the Clark bubble.
Also included in the Gilas pool were Bacolodnon Samjosef Belangel, Antiqueno Tzaddy Rangel, Dwight Ramos, Isaac Go, Javi Gomez de Liano, Justine Baltazar, Mike Nieto, William Navarro, Jaydee Tungcab, Carl Tamayo, Jordan Heading, Lebron Lopez, RJ Abarrientos, Geo Chiu, and Kai Sotto.
Baldwin, for his part, said that the arrival of Kouame to the national team was just timely as they hope to use the tournament to build up for their future competitions, including the Olympic qualifying Tournament next month.
“This decision on Ange is consistent with the whole program because it’s a vision to the future,” said Baldwin, who is making a return as Gilas Pilipinas head coach after five years.
“We’ll try to accomplish short-term goals while we’re really focusing on our long-term objective of forming a Gilas team that can genuinely compete with the Top 10 teams in the world come 2023,” he added.
After the South Korea game, Gilas Pilipinas will take on Indonesia on Friday evening before facing the Koreans anew on Sunday. Only the top two teams in Group A will join host team Indonesia in the FIBA Asia Cup scheduled for August./ASC, WDJ