He may be mentioned last among the country’s naturalized standouts, but that hasn’t given Ange Kouame any reason to be indifferent toward the national basketball program.
Instead, the Ivory Coast native has always made himself available for the national team and the 6-foot-10 big man is doing it again for the squad that will compete in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, this weekend.
“I’m really excited to be part of the program again, I’m also excited when I got the call from coach (Tim Cone) himself,” he told the Inquirer during one of the practice sessions at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
“I’m really happy to be able to represent this country and play and have fun with the guys,” the ace out of Ateneo added.
Even with a European club looking to secure his services, Kouame has long behaved like a professional, training with Gilas in the Baltic states when it was preparing for the World Cup, and then still showing up in practices in the buildup for the continental showcase.
The 25-year-old center is currently hard at work throughout the camp at Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, where the national team is training.
Technically the lone amateur in a squad littered with pros, Kouame is also raring to prove that he can hold his own in a field of battle-hardened veterans when the Philippines’ campaign opens against Bahrain on Sept. 26.
“I think I’m prepared,” he said of facing experienced pros, taller opponents and other naturalized players in the regional meet.
“It won’t be the first time. But I think I’ll be ready to be in that situation as well—especially as this team’s muscle. Basketball’s a really competitive sport so we’ll compete against each other,” he added.
Kouame’s presence keeps the country’s frontline relatively tall even after AJ Edu and Kai Sotto both decided to focus on their pro careers in Japan.
Thrown in with June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, and even Mo Tautuaa, the former UAAP Most Valuable Player should be a key asset on both ends of the court.
And Cone feels that that is exactly what the national team needs as it tries to shoot for a gold medal.
“We’ve got Mo, Japeth Ange and then June Mar. We’ve got good size,” he said. “We’re not going to get outsized over there [in the Asian Games]. We’ll have an opportunity with Middle Eastern teams and China with our size.” INQ
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