Angelo Kouame is bracing for more difficult battles ahead following his debut as naturalized player of Gilas Pilipinas against South Korea in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.
The 6-foot-10 Kouame finished with 12 points and six rebounds in Gilas’ thrilling 81-78 victory over South Korea Wednesday, June 16, a game which the Ateneo star described as the “toughest game of my entire career.”
“But I’m expecting to see more games like that,” he said. “It’s an experience we have to learn from and keep moving.”
He endured battles in the paint, mostly against South Korea’s naturalized player Ricardo Ratliffe, but was able to hold his own while also surprising everyone with three triples, including two in the second half.
It appeared Kouame had sealed the game for Gilas when he scored a follow-up with a foul to boot, 10 seconds remaining to make it 78-75.
But Kouame missed his bonus free throw and Hyunjung Lee responded by knocking down a game-tying triple with 2.9 seconds left.
Good thing for Gilas, SJ Belangel saved the day with his buzzer-beating three to clinch Gilas a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup this August in Jakarta.
“I missed the free throw so I was thinking that if we’re going to lose this game, it’s going to be my fault,” he said. “But coach Tab gave me a quick reminder to not think about the last play. It’s the next play that matters so I focused on what was going to happen next.”
Kouame could only feel a sense of pride after waiting for months before he could become eligible to play for the Philippines in FIBA competition like the continental qualifiers.
The Ivorian-born Kouame has been joining the training bubbles at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna while his naturalization was being processed in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
It was only last month when President Duterte signed the papers that made the bill into law. However, Kouame had to wait until last weekend when FIBA approved his registration as a Filipino player.
“I feel super proud to play my first game as a Filipino. This has been the result of all we’ve done from the naturalization thing to all the practices. I’m really blessed to be with this team, with these young guys. It’s all love we share with each other and we appreciate the game no matter what happens.