MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo de Manila University veteran Thirdy Ravena came to the defense of rookie center Ange Kouame after an incident that saw the Ivorian get tangled up with University of the Philippines' (UP) Bright Akhuetie.
Kouame gave Akhuetie a nudge as they jockeyed for position in the third quarter, with the Ateneo center looking to move to the top of the key.
Unfortunately, Akhuetie appeared to have planted his left foot the wrong way. Their legs also got tangled up as the Nigerian center fell to the floor.
Akhuetie had to be stretchered off the court, but returned with seven minutes to play in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 81 finals. The Blue Eagles held on for an 88-79 win, however, claiming a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series.
Kouame was roundly booed by the massive UP crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena for the incident, and the young player was admittedly shaken by the response to him. He has insisted that he meant no harm to Akhuetie, something that Ravena was quick to back up.
"It was an accident. Knowing Ange, he's probably the most gentle import in the UAAP kasi hindi naman siya pupunta sa laro na mananakit. Kilala ko si Ange," said Ravena.
"It happens in basketball, may nasasaktan, may nahuhulog, minsan sinasadya, minsan hindi. Pero kay Ange, hindi niya naman sinadya, and I know him so it's just part of the game," he added.
Kouame was already struggling in the game even prior to the incident with Akhuetie, and he continued to commit errors afterward. After averaging over 14 points and 13 rebounds per game in the elimination round, Kouame had a relatively quiet 7-point, 12-rebound outing in his first finals game.
For Ravena, it was not surprising that their young center was shaky in Game 1 of the series.
"I mean as a rookie naintindihan ko na si Ange talaga, medyo na-frustrate lang siya ng kaunti sa sarili niya kasi hindi niya nashu-shoot ang bola," said Ravena.
"But I know Ange is a very selfless guy, and na-frustrate siya kasi hindi siya makatulong sa team," he added.
Ravena gave Kouame a little pep talk before the third quarter, telling the center to "just enjoy the game."
"The game is not any different from all the other games that we played. It might feel a bit different kasi may crowd, everyone's loud, but at the end of the day it's just like any other game na ginawa namin," said Ravena.
"So he doesn't need to do anything different."
Kouame himself is hopeful that he will play better come Wednesday's Game 2, where Ateneo will try to clinch the UAAP Season 81 crown.
"I expect a lot of tough match-ups, especially in the next game," he said. "I hope I'm gonna be ready for that."
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