MANILA, Philippines -- Ange Kouame made an impression on South Korea's Ra Gun-ah -- better known as former Purefoods import Ricardo Ratliffe to PBA fans -- when they faced off in the William Jones Cup in 2018, and the veteran is looking forward to testing the young center anew.
This time, they will be battling in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers where they will both etch their names in the long rivalry between the Philippines and South Korea.
Kouame, who was naturalized in time for the qualifiers, will make his debut for the Philippines on Wednesday when they play South Korea in Clark, Pampanga. They play again on June 20, still in Clark; in between those games, the Philippines will take on Indonesia on June 18.
"I played against him in the Jones Cup," Gun-ah said of Kouame.
Kouame and the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles represented the Philippines in the Jones Cup in 2018. They gave a good account of themselves against South Korea, putting together a gallant stand before losing, 90-73.
The Ivory Coast native had 10 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. Gun-ah played just in the first half, tallying 15 points and seven rebounds, and helping his team seize control before resting the final two quarters.
Gun-ah is certain that Kouame "has gotten a lot better" since they first played against each other. Since that time, Kouame has played two seasons in the UAAP, anchoring the Blue Eagles' stifling defense, and has spent long weeks training with Gilas Pilipinas at the Inspire Sports Academy in preparation for the qualifiers.
"It's been years, so he's been putting in work, he's been studying, studying a lot of teams. I'm sure he's been studying our team," Gun-ah said of Kouame. "So I'm looking forward to playing against him and seeing how much he's improved since then."
Indeed, Kouame has previously said that he is scouting not just Gun-ah, but also Indonesia's naturalized player, Lester Prosper.
While he is excited for his individual match-up with Kouame, Gun-ah is also looking forward to seeing a clash of two young squads in South Korea and Gilas Pilipinas. South Korea, which has traditionally dominated its rivalry with the Philippines, has brought a young team to Clark.
"I just try to make sure I lead by example and by communication. Talk to the young guys, try to really boost their confidence. They're so young. Young and talented, but they don't have as much confidence as some of the older guys," Gun-ah said of his team.
South Korea currently has a 2-0 record in Group A, with wins over Indonesia and Thailand in February 2020.
Aside from playing the Philippines twice in Clark, they also take on Indonesia on June 17, and Thailand on June 19.