Gilas faces âKorean curseâ
Ange Kouame and Kai Sotto
SBP Photo

Gilas faces ‘Korean curse’

Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - June 16, 2021 - 12:00am

Kouame, Sotto lead charge

MANILA, Philippines — Gilas Pilipinas’ youth brigade tries to break the “Korean curse” tonight in a FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers opener that may bring back memories of the Philippines’ magical win over its bitter rival in 2013.

Led by debutants Ange Kouame and Kai Sotto, the young guns seek to prove their worth by putting an end to a string of losses to nemesis South Korea in the 6 p.m. match at the AUF Gym in Clark, Pampanga and duplicating the legendary exploits of the Gilas of old.

Since the Gilas batch of Jimmy Alapag and Marc Pingris pulled off an emotional 86-79 triumph over South Korea in the Asia Cup eight years ago at the MOA Arena, the Filipinos have lost the last five faceoffs.

“I heard about the losses. They told me when the Philippines won at home (in 2013), it was a really great thing for the people and for the organization. I’ll try to get myself into it, too,” said the 6-foot-10 Kouame, Gilas’ new naturalized player.

“I’m really excited to give it my all. Puso is such a big part of this country and I really want to be a part of that,” he said.

Kouame, 23, shares the spotlight with the 7-foot-3 Sotto as they banner the 12-man team tasked to give Gilas a 4-0 win-loss card in Group A against Korea (2-0) and clinch a seat to the FIBA Asia Cup proper in August in Indonesia.

“It’s exciting just to imagine that I can share the court with Ange,” said the 19-year-old Sotto.

The US-based Sotto said he’s adapted well to the system of coach Tab Baldwin despite joining the team only this week.

“I’m a fast learner. That’s one of my strengths. I can adjust fast and it took me just a couple of days to learn all of coach Tab’s systems, plays, defensive schemes, everything,” he said.

Skipper Isaac Go, Dwight Ramos, Mike Nieto, Jaydee Tungcab, Justine Baltazar, William Navarro, RJ Abarrientos, Javi Gomez de Liaño, SJ Belangel, and Carl Tamayo join the roster facing South Korea, a team headlined by naturalized import Ra Gun-a (formerly Ricardo Ratliffe).

Baldwin, who’s overseeing Gilas’ long-term program geared towards the 2023 FIBA World Cup, promised a young but fighting team that the nation can draw inspiration from.

“Will we win? I hope so. Will we try to win? Absolutely. Every possession, everything we do is geared towards winning. Will we fight to win? Unquestionably,” Baldwin said in The Game on One Sports.

“So I don’t think there will be reasons to be disappointed no matter what the score is because you’re going to have your countrymen fighting for you. I think it’s always a source of pride,” he said.

Baldwin tried to temper the expectations on Sotto, who spent two weeks in quarantine after arriving from the US.

“Not being able to do any basketball activities for 14 days will take its toll on anyone so there will be a bit of load management from our part for Kai,” said the Kiwi-American mentor.

“He did his best to stay in shape during that period but it’s a very quick turnaround,” he said.

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