MANILA, Philippines — Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin insisted that having Joseph Obasa was not about replacing Ange Kouame but the one-and-done foreign student-athlete is a gift for the Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament.
“We don’t [think about him replacing Ange Kouame]. I don’t think Joe thinks too much about that. We don’t talk about that at all. Ange represents a different time, a different team, a different era. You have to understand I think how difficult a job we gave Joe really is, and it’s not related to Ange,” said Baldwin after Obasa came to the rescue with the crucial stops and the game-sealing free throws in their 62-58 win over Adamson on Sunday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“It’s related to the fact that he’s a one-and-done player. He’s stepping in with a whole bunch of rookies. He doesn’t have the people around him that have the veteran experience to keep him calm, to tell him what he needs to hear, to give him the positive affirmation messages,” he added.
Obasa, who delivered 10 points on 6-of-9 free throw shooting to go with eight rebounds and four blocks, attributed his performance to their preparation as Ateneo regained the solo fourth place with a 6-6 record.
“I think it comes down to preparation. As a team, we try to really lock in our defensive principles and we really put work into it these past few weeks. We gotta be better definitely, like coach said in the second half. From a team perspective, we want to maintain that kind of quality all throughout,” said Obasa.
“We played almost all scenarios in practice. We prepared to do them. I just had good advice from coaches in terms of how to execute even to the littlest details like shooting the free throw, moving off on this, how to guard this man, and I think it starts with preparations, and we were prepared for these kinds of situations.”
The Nigerian center may only be eligible for one season but Baldwin relished his opportunity to coach Obasa as they try to defend the crown this season.
“Knowing Joe Obasa, he’s a gift. He’s one of the most intellectual people you’d ever want to meet… Because of his work ethic, because of his intellect, he’s progressed to the point now where he knows what he’s supposed to do on the court,” Baldwin said. “While he’s always gonna make mistakes, they’re much fewer, and he covers them up with a lot more good basketball, which is obviously helping us out, not just throughout the course of the game. But now even in critical moments of games. I can’t speak highly enough about Joe. We gave him an impossible job and he’s doing it, so I really respect that.”
Ateneo plays its last two games against the University of the East on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena before facing red-hot La Salle on Saturday at the Big Dome.
With their Final Four hopes on the line, Obasa vows to keep fighting for Ateneo.
“Just like what Sean [Quitevis] said, we got to earn the right to play another game, if that’s how it’s going to be till the end. We play this game, we gotta earn the right to play the next game then earn the right to play the next game. That’s the mentality. We gotta do what needs to be done and trust each other,” said Obasa.