There’s at least one vital cog assured of staying fully committed to Gilas Pilipinas until after the 2023 Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup.
Ange Kouame, who earned naturalization a few months ago but has been pursued by lucrative offers to play overseas since displaying his talents in recent Fiba events with Gilas, has given assurance that he will don the Philippine red-white-and-blue all the way until well after the World Cup—without sidetracking from that.
The alarming exodus of PH Team-caliber talents overseas of late has become a concern for Gilas program director and coach Tab Baldwin and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), who a few days ago got the assurance from the 6-foot-11 Ivorian center himself that he will spearhead the Nationals until 2023.
The green backs will come after that.
“He has committed that he will play only for Gilas (Pilipinas) and Ateneo (in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines or UAAP),” Arben Santos, the businessman who has been the guardian of blue-chip Ateneo players in the Phiippine Basketball Association (PBA) and Kouame’s adviser, told the Inquirer on Wednesday.
“He will not deviate from that and he will remain focused to play in the World Cup,” Santos added.
Kouame’s commitment will be a huge relief for Baldwin and the national program, whose coveted youngsters have signed up to play in several foreign leagues. The 19-year-old Kai Sotto, the 7-foot-2 center, is signed with an Australian ball club. Guards Dwight Ramos and Thirdy Ravena are in Japan, along with high-leaping swingman Kobe Paras.
And the exodus won’t stop.
Even among pros in the PBA, there is an eagerness to explore overseas employment with a source revealing to the Inquirer that there are standouts contemplating on holding out on a contract extension so they can test their value in a more lucrative market.
“There are some stars who are just waiting for their [PBA] contracts to expire before they entertain offers,” the agent said in a separate interview. “Some of those offers are too good to pass up.”
Bobby Ray Parks Jr. was such a case, as he held out in signing a “maximum offer” from TNT and headed to Japan after getting his release from the Tropang Giga. Kiefer Ravena also sought permission to play there despite being under contract until the end of the 2023 PBA Season with NLEX.
Those developments have prompted the SBP and PBA board to tackle the matter in a crucial meeting on Monday as the pro league confronts a potential invasion of its ranks in the near future.
The South Korean pro league will also open its doors to Asian imports, giving the Gilas program and the PBA another rival as far as player-destinations are concerned. In Japan, there are 20 Division I teams that are offering up to $25,000 (roughly P1.2 million) per month, not counting bonuses and shares in merchandise sales like that of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA).
At least 20
Each team can tap one Asian import, and if the Division I teams alone decide on raiding the PBA and Gilas, then at least 20 blue-chip stars could be playing there.
“That’s why Japan and Korea feel that they would have a big market in merchandise sales by tapping Filipinos as imports because there are a lot of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in their countries,” added the agent. “So aside from talent that they will be tapping to play, they also know that there is business in those talents.”
Kouame, however, provides some sort of an immovable cornerstone for the national program.
Before Kouame, Ateneo’s starting center in the UAAP, Andray Blatche was the Philippines’ naturalized player. Blatche, who saw action for the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards in the NBA, played in the China league and often came back to the country out of shape, cramming before major events.
Gilas will not encounter anything like that from Kouame, who blossomed into a collegiate superstar also under Baldwin, which made his decision to keep playing for Ateneo a no-brainer since Baldwin also handles that program.
And once Kouame’s first national team duty in the World Cup is over, Santos said that the gentle giant will be on his way either to Europe or Australia, where teams have already sounded off offers that the adviser said were quite generous.
The big man out of Ivory Coast will still be available to play for the Philippines after that.
Ramos, Ravena and other Gilas targets for World Cup roster spots reportedly have clauses in their contracts that would release them to national team duty two weeks before big international events, but the time frame doesn’t line up with Baldwin’s vision of a lengthy preparation time for the national team.
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