MANILA, Philippines—Tab Baldwin knew Gilas Pilipinas’ young big men Angelo Kouame and Kai Sotto would be in a bind against the experienced Ra Guna of South Korea, but what he saw from his centers were enough for him to gauge their hearts.
Kouame, who just got naturalized, and Sotto, on his first time with the senior team, made their international debuts for the Philippines in the 81-78 win over long time tormentor South Korea in the Fiba Asia Qualifiers.
Ra still had better numbers than the two, even if Kouame and Sotto combined their stats, but Baldwin was still proud of the fight his bigs gave.
“You saw the determination in Kai to make an impact,” said Baldwin after the Philippines’ win. “We can see what kind of competitor he is.”
“Ange rebounded the ball well, made a big block in the fourth. The game is very quick for Ange but he will improve with experience.”
Kouame, 23, was the team’s starting center and he put up 12 points, six rebounds, and one block. The 6-foot-11 center from Ateneo also went 3-of-5 from deep.
“He works hard on his 3-point shooting and hopefully we get more of that,” said Baldwin who is also Kouame’s coach in Ateneo.
Kouame’s most important board was when he cleaned up Will Navarro’s miss and force an and-one opportunity to give Gilas a 78-75 lead with just over 10 seconds left.
Sotto, for his troubles, finished with 11 points and seven boards.
“What we saw from Kai was a very young player who wasn’t very well prepared but what heart he has,” said Baldwin of the 19-year-old Sotto. “He was very disrupted by the physicality of (Ricardo) Ratliffe (Ra’s name before he was a naturalized Korean citizen) and what you saw was him making the adjustment and he dished back the physicality.”
Ra, who previously suited up as Magnolia’s import in the PBA in 2016, finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes of the game.
Angelo Kouame vows to give his all in Gilas debut
Kai Sotto excited to play with Gilas’ naturalized player Kouame
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