MANILA, Philippines -- While he continues to train with the Philippine national team, it is nearly impossible for Ange Kouame to join Gilas Pilipinas in the upcoming window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers in Doha, Qatar.
This, as his naturalization has yet to be finalized.
The Ivorian-born center took a big step towards gaining Filipino citizenship in December when the House Committee on Justice approved House Bill No. 5951, which seeks his naturalization.
Al Panlilio, the president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), acknowledged that the process will not be finished in time for the qualifiers, scheduled for February 18-22.
"I think hindi kaya within the window," Panlilio admitted. "We will not be able to make it by this third window."
The SBP executive explained that the bill has to go through a second and third reading, while the partner bill still needs approval in the Senate. Even after the bills gain approval in both Houses, it will still need the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Only then can SBP begin processing Kouame's Philippine passport, which FIBA will use as the basis for his eligibility.
"I think within the year, for sure, maayos natin 'yan," Panlilio assured.
If everything goes according to plan, Kouame should be naturalized in time for the FIBA Asia Cup, set for August 16-28 in Indonesia.
"Our hope is by the August FIBA event, which is supposed to be held in Indonesia, we're hoping by that time, Ange will be available," said Panlilio. "So it's still a work in progress. Hindi lang talaga kaya for this February window."
Kouame has been Ateneo de Manila University's defensive anchor since he joined the team in Season 81, where he also won Rookie of the Year honors. In the Blue Eagles' perfect 16-0 campaign in Season 82, the 23-year-old Kouame averaged 12.5 points, 11.79 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.86 blocks per game while shooting 53.7% from the field.
While he waits for his naturalization to progress, Kouame continues to train with the Gilas Pilipinas pool.
He joined the national team in its camp ahead of the November 2020 window, and was once again called up to the team's "bubble" at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna ahead of the February 2021 qualifiers.
"He's practicing with the team in Calamba so of course just to also get to know the system, and the players, his teammates," said Panlilio.
In the meantime, the Philippines will play without a naturalized player in Doha, Qatar, where they will take on South Korea on February 18 and 22, and Indonesia on February 20.
Gilas Pilipinas currently have a 3-0 record in Group A, and will need just one win from their last three games to secure their passage to the FIBA Asia Cup in August.