Romero wants NBA-caliber players as naturalization candidates for Gilas

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2021 02:49 PM

Ateneo center Ange Kouame dunks during a UAAP Season 82 game against National University. UAAP Media

MANILA, Philippines -- House Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero has called on the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to come up with a list of five candidates who can become naturalized players for the men's national basketball team.

Romero had filed a bill pushing for the naturalization of Barangay Ginebra import Justin Brownlee, and had supported the measure granting citizenship to Ateneo de Manila University foreign student-athlete Ange Kouame.

However, he stressed the need for a pool of naturalized players who can be called up for Gilas Pilipinas when the team competes in various international tournaments.

"I talked to Robbie (Cong. Robbie Puno, vice-chairman of the SBP), sabi ko sa kanya to ask Gilas or the MVP Group, to already submit to us at least five players that can be naturalized. 'Cause the process is the same eh, so bakit hindi na lang namin pagsama-samahin," Romero said during an appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum, Tuesday.

"And then, from the five na na-naturalize, mamili na lang ng isa, dalawang players na isasama sa national pool at any given time. But there should be five naturalized imports, pwedeng si Brownlee, pwedeng malaki, pwedeng maliit, depende kung anong competition ng Gilas," he added.

"Sana magawa ng SBP 'yun, para it's a challenge to them na, to name five players that can be naturalized, hindi lang si Kouame at si Brownlee."

According to Romero, the naturalization process is ongoing for both Kouame and Bronwlee. In December, the House Committee on Justice approved House Bill No. 5951, which seeks to grant Filipino citizenship to Kouame.

However, both men still need to submit certain requirements, which is the reason for the delay in their naturalization.

"Marami kasing requirement eh, with regards to being a naturalized citizen. So kumpletuhin lang nila, within three months sana, at hindi one year 'yung mga paperwork. Maraming papeles kaya mahirap mag-naturalize," he explained.

"But once kumpleto 'to sa House, madali ng i-move forward," he added.

But as much as he supports their naturalization, Romero also believes that the SBP can call on even better talents to beef up Gilas Pilipinas.

"Medyo elevate natin to NBA-caliber players, 'cause ito 'yung mga kailangan natin," the congressman said.

The Philippines previously gave citizenship to Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche, both of whom played big roles in the rise of Gilas Pilipinas in the world stage. Douthit was a key member of the team that won silver in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, while Blatche suited up for the Philippines in the 2014 and 2019 editions of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The need for a pool of naturalized players is not a new sentiment. SBP president Al Panlilio has also said that it should be the way to go for Gilas Pilipinas after its poor campaign in the 2019 World Cup.

Brownlee and Kouame emerged as the top candidates for naturalization from there, though other players have also expressed their willingness to play for the Philippines, including former San Miguel import Chris McCullough.

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