Their games may still be a work in progress, but Gilas Pilipinas big men Kai Sotto and Ange Kouame demonstrated enough intangibles that keyed the hosts' thrilling victory over continental basketball rival South Korea.
"I think now we all see the kind of competitor that he is because he really wasn't ready for significant minutes in this game, and yet he gave us some great minutes," Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said of Sotto, 19, playing meaningful basketball for the first time since he left the Philippines to try his luck in the United States.
Against Korea, Sotto played 18 minutes and produced 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, as he shared center minutes with Kouame, who finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds in 21 minutes.
"For Ange, it's what he's been doing a lot of. He rebounded the ball well, he got a big block in the fourth quarter, he intimidated shots around the rim," Baldwin added.
One thing that please the coach the most about Kouame's game though was his outside touch.
Known as a purely inside threat with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, he has appeared to add a new dimension to his game, firing 5 shots from long distance and making 3.
"I think the one thing that we saw from Ange is his improved perimeter shooting," Baldwin said.
"He hit 3 threes in the game and he works hard on his 3-point shooting and hopefully we're gonna see a lot more of that."
As far as Sotto is concerned, Baldwin said the young slotman has "made himself very beloved" on the squad and that he's "a great, great guy to have in the team environment."
He praised the teen phenom for "what a heart he has" and soldiering on despite the bodies being thrown at him.
"What you saw was him to make an adjustment and he started to deliver back, to dish back the physicality, but most importantly, you just saw the determination in Kai to make an impact in the game," Baldwin said.
While Sotto and Kouame earned their coach's praise, they could get better. "A lot better," Baldwin said.
"You can see the fatigue, you know, he's only good for three to four minutes, he gets tired," Baldwin said of Sotto.
"I think it's pretty courageous effort by Kai, but we're gonna see a lot better basketball from him as we move forward. He's just a very good talent."
Of Kouame, whom Baldwin has worked with at Ateneo, the coach said: "The game is still really quick for Ange. He's still having to think his way through things. He will improve with experience."