MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles may not have achieved the elimination round ending they wanted, but they nonetheless still painted a part of the big picture to their liking by clinching their fifth straight UAAP finals at the expense of FEU.
At the center of that dominant Season 84 run for the four-peat-seeking Eagles is none other than naturalized Filipino big man Ange Kouame, who has consistently put up huge numbers despite being in a patented 16-deep rotation, and now looks primed for his first UAAP MVP award.
Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, of course, likes the prospect of having his ward win the prestigious recognition, but his praises came with caveats that only he can fully expound on.
“I think he’s had a hell of a season, but I don’t care about individual awards,” he said after his squad ousted FEU for the fourth time in the last five post-season runs.
“It’s always nice, and it’s a validation that you’ve had a good season, but the players know that whether they get awards or not, they know whether they’ve had a good season. They know what there is to improve on.”
Prior to flirting with a triple-double against the Tamaraws off a 9-point, 18-rebound, 8-assist, 5-block line, the 24-year-old Kouame finished the elimination round with averages of 12.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1.7 assists, and 1.0 steal in just 26 minutes per game.
Apart from his usual gaudy numbers on the rebounding and shot-blocking departments, the Gilas Pilipinas centerpiece has started showing his improvement in his passing skills, which may have a lot to do with the kind of system Baldwin runs.
“Our environment is very, very much a shared environment. We don’t think in terms of what I did, or what I have to do, other than how that’s going to impact everybody else,” the American-Kiwi mentor continued.
“If Ange is fortunate enough to be named the MVP, that’s a credit to the season he had, but the first thing he’s going to do is he’s going to credit the contributions of his teammates to how he played. We’re not going to let him have the MVP all by himself. We’re all going to take a piece of it home.”
Sure enough, even the most dominant individuals like Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and SJ Belangel have all seamlessly turned into effective team players, and so far, it has not stopped Ateneo from winning title after title.
So even if Kouame is well on his way to copping the league’s top individual award, only one trophy truly matters for him, and for everyone else around him – the UAAP championship – and that’s exactly how Baldwin wants it.
“There’s clear knowledge that everybody in our program contributes to the success of all of us. That’s our culture, and we’re proud of that culture. We think it contributes to our success, so we will continue to speak like that.” – Rappler.com