Angelo Kouame finally made his Gilas Pilipinas debut, Wednesday evening at the AUF Sports & Cultural Center in Pampanga.
And it was a memorable one as it was up against the country’s archnemesis in the region, South Korea.
Safe to say, it was the most emotional and physical game the 23-year-old naturalized Filipino ever figured in.
“That was the toughest game of my entire career but I’m expecting to see more games like that,” shared Kouame.
“It’s an experience we have to learn from and keep moving.”
Despite not having a crowd in attendance, it was a highly emotional affair as there was no need to have a backstory for the tilt.
The Philippines, which has been handed numerous heartbreaks by the Koreans over the past three decades, were trying to protect home court. South Korea, on the other hand, was trying to avenge its last loss in the country that happened back in 2013.
It was also personal for Kouame as he wanted to prove that he deserved to be part of Gilas despite his young age.
“We actually were focused. No matter what the result was going to be, we were going to stay together. As my first international game, I was surprised with how things went, how tough it was,” recalled Kouame.
“As the game went on, we had to improvise and go with the flow.”
The 7-foot big man actually had quite a game, tallying 12 points built on three triples along with six boards, an assist, and a block.
However, the Ateneo standout almost experienced the South Korean nightmare himself.
With 10 seconds left and Gilas clinging to a 76-75 lead, Kouame scored a bucket over Lee Hyunjung plus the harm. However, Kouame missed the free throw that led to a breakaway triple for Lee that tied things up.
“I missed the free throw so I was thinking that if we were going to lose this game, it’s going to be my fault.
“But coach Tab [Baldwin] 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,” he shared.
In the ensuing play, SJ Belangel knocked down a miracle buzzer-beater to give Gilas an 81-78 win.
Yes, Belangel saved the day not just for Gilas but also Kouame.
And Kouame is just grateful to be part of the nationals’ historic win.
“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 be with this team, with these young guys,” said the Ivory Coast-born center.
“It’s all love we share with each other and we appreciate the game no matter what happens.”