MANILA, Philippines -- On the verge of winning Most Valuable Player honors for the first time in his UAAP career, Ateneo de Manila University center Ange Kouame's priorities have not changed.
"To be honest with you," he told reporters on Wednesday evening, "I'd rather be champion than MVP."
Kouame was coming off a masterful outing against Far Eastern University in the UAAP Season 84 Final 4, where he put up nine points, 18 rebounds, eight assists, and five blocks to power the Blue Eagles to an 85-72 triumph.
The win secured the Blue Eagles' place in the UAAP finals for the fifth straight season. They are seeking a fourth consecutive title; for Kouame, who made his Ateneo debut in Season 80, it would be a third straight championship.
His coach, Tab Baldwin, said that Kouame has had "a hell of a season." The naturalized Filipino center averaged 12.86 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 2.07 blocks per game for the Blue Eagles, leading them to a 13-1 record and the top seed. His numbers, combined with Ateneo's record, make Kouame the front-runner for the top individual award in the UAAP.
Kouame, however, appeared mostly unconcerned about the possibility of adding an MVP trophy to the Rookie of the Year award that he won in 2018.
"Winning, that's the main goal," he said. "If I'm MVP, I think I would give credit to my teammates, also, not just me."
"I remember, before the beginning of the season, I was feeling down from Gilas and stuff, and they all messaged me to tell me that this is family. You have all the time to come back and be ready for the season," he revealed.
"This is what motivates me to push myself every single game, especially for this season. I try to do that for them also."
Baldwin said that Kouame's sentiment is one that is shared by the Blue Eagles, and a testament to the culture that they have built in the team over the past seven years that he has been in charge of the program.
"I don't care about individual players, and I don't think the players care too much about them. It's always nice, and I guess it's a validation that you've had a good season," he said. "But the players know that, whether they get awards or not."
Should Koume win the MVP, then it will be an award that he will share with his teammates, said the coach.
"There's clear knowledge that everybody in our program contributes to the success of all of us," he explained. "That's our culture, and we're proud of that culture and we think it contributes to our success, so we will continue to speak like that."