Ange Kouame just concluded the best individual campaign of his UAAP career thus far. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t end on a high note.
Ateneo De Manila University succumbed to University of the Philippines in a 69-72 defeat in a do-or-die Game Three of the Season 84 Men’s Basketball Finals.
After taking up the mantle as the Blue Eagles’ main man throughout the season, head coach Tab Baldwin bared that the best is yet to come for the naturalized Filipino moving forward.
He also looked back on Kouame’s journey and could only marvel at how far he has already come since first landing in Ateneo back in 2018.
“It’s immeasurable and there’s still a lot more to go. But this is a young man that came to us with a lot of raw ability, a lot of promise,” the multi-titled coach shared. “But what he had, and what he has for a basketball player – for an athlete – will ensure that he will be successful. And that he has an undying passion to give everything he’s got.
“And he doesn’t even know that. It’s just in his DNA.”
As the Blue Eagles’ foreign student-athlete, Kouame served as a valuable contributor to the team’s back-to-back titles in seasons 81 and 82.
His stellar performance and promising potential led him to be a naturalized Filipino for Gilas Pilipinas. Kouame then saw action in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament held in Belgrade, Serbia last year.
After his stint with the national team, the 6-foot-11 center eventually unleashed his dominant form in the collegiate ranks. He averaged 12.86 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.07 blocks, 1.71 assists, and 1.0 steals to garner 69.214 statistical points and was named the league MVP for Season 84.
Baldwin shared that Kouame’s success primarily came from him staying true to himself and playing his brand of basketball every time he was on the floor.
“We saw that from the very first time that he walked on the court. Could hardly speak English, he looked like he was desperately in need of a good meal,” Baldwin reflected. “But he went out on the court and he didn’t try to impress anybody.
“He just did what Ange Kouame does. He just pursues relentlessly and that’s what he still does today but he stacked on a lot of ability and a lot more understanding of the game.”
Despite Kouame’s level of talent as a basketball player, Baldwin claimed that his character remains to be the best asset that he brings to the Ateneo basketball program.
“That’s what makes him a highly valuable player. But you can write whatever you want, the greatest value that he brings to our program is as a person,” the American-Kiwi mentor shared.
“He might be the most valuable player in the league but he’s one of the most remarkable people. Certainly, one of the most remarkable young men that I’ve ever met.
“Because of his humility – the way he was raised – because of the quality of the man that he is, I can say this in front of him,” Baldwin continued. “I’m never worried that it will go to his head, just not made that way. I’m so proud of him but there’s a lot more to do as he said. We have more work to get back to soon.”
In Game Three against UP, Kouame produced 12 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and a steal in close to 40 minutes played. Unfortunately, his numbers went for naught as the Fighting Maroons outlasted the Blue Eagles in overtime to end their 36-year-long title drought.
Despite falling short of their ultimate goal on Friday evening, Kouame expressed his gratitude to the entire Ateneo community who has been supportive of him ever since. There’s still unfinished business for the Blue Eagles and for that, he promised to return and try his best to bring the chip back to their side of Katipunan for Season 85.
“I’m just thankful and blessed at the same time to feel their support every single time. I think like this is one of the motivational things, especially today I feel like I let the people down,” he admitted. “I know not a lot of people will feel what I feel. I guess it’s just the way that I am. I’m really striving for coming back next year just for them.
“I’ll be here next season.”