May 25, 2024

The Cuts: From FIBA World Cup to Asian Games, Chris Newsome, Ange Kouame, Calvin Oftana make their precious minutes count

The Cuts: From FIBA World Cup to Asian Games, Chris Newsome, Ange Kouame, Calvin Oftana make their precious minutes count
Art by Royce Nicdao

Chris Newsome, Ange Kouame, and Calvin Oftana didn't get to play in the FIBA World Cup. Neither did Justin Brownlee. But they got the chance to wear the Gilas Pilipinas jersey once again at the Asian Games.

They made sure their minutes counted. Those minutes were worth gold.

Newsome was one of the three final "deepest" cuts from the FIBA World Cup roster, along with Oftana and Ray Parks Jr. With no particular commitments to take care of, the guard chose to stay. 

He was present with the team during the entire campaign, helping with the warm-ups

Fast forward a few months later, and he was the captain of Gilas Pilipinas for the Asian Games.

"There's a lot that I wanted to prove, I wanted to show the world that I'm capable of playing this game on both ends of the floor," Newsome said after the finals game against Jordan.

Coach Tim Cone gave him a very specific assignment—lock down Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

Tough challenge, as RHJ exploded for 24 in Jordan's group stage victory against Gilas Pilipinas. And Newsome was raring to bounce back after that game against China when he committed a crucial five-second violation with three minutes left.

In the group stage, Rondae made 24 points. He made seven of 17 from the field, while 10 were from the free throw line.

Technically, RHJ made 24 points in the finals too. Only this time, he was only able to make eight out of 29 shots.

"He really handled Rondae Hollis-Jefferson really well tonight. He was disciplined, he didn't give Jefferson much room to get to the rim," Cone said in the post-game press conference.

"I think we needed the first loss to happen, call it a blessing in disguise. So that way we can learn from our mistakes, what we need to do better," Newsome added, as he registered 13 points, one rebound, and two assists.

"And that's exactly what we did today."

Oftana, who provided a key effort in blocking a shot from China in the semifinals, upped his ante in the gold medal bout and made seven rebounds against Jordan.

He got a tender hug from Cone after the game and kissed his gold medal again and again.

"The goal is more important than the role! After 61 years! Para sa bayan, lalaban!" he wrote on Instagram.

Meanwhile, Ange Kouame already knew way, way before that he was not going to play in the FIBA World Cup, despite playing for Gilas during the qualifiers. The naturalized big man was fighting for a spot against Justin Brownlee and Jordan Clarkson.

But he earned his minutes and exploded in the finals against Jordan, creating a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, along with five steals and two blocks.

"Last night I thought, 'We're already here. What the hell, let's go for it.' We did it," Kouame recounted to One Sports' Belle Gregorio.

He got quite emotional as he sank shots in the final quarter.

"I felt like the team needed it. I also needed it. So I just tried to give my best. I think it works," he added.

"I love you all, Philippines! We got the gold, let's go!" the naturalized center said. "Pinoy lang talaga!"

This was their moment. This was their redemption.

"There's a lot of people who didn't think we could do it. And we proved them wrong," Newsome told One Sports.

"We didn't have the best showing in the World Cup. And here we are making bawi, bringing gold for everybody back home. It means a lot."

(With reports from Bea Escudero, Belle Gregorio, Paolo del Rosario, One Sports)