MANILA, Philippines -- Ange Kouame's naturalization is a significant development for Gilas Pilipinas, as it continues to prepare for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers and other future competitions.
This, according to Deputy Speaker Roberto V. Puno, who is the primary author of the bill that granted Philippine citizenship to Kouame.
The House of Representatives unanimously approved Tuesday House Bill No. 8632, putting Kouame one step closer towards suiting up for the Philippine national basketball team.
"At the the age of 23, Kouame is now poised to become the youngest naturalized Gilas player ever, which gives us a good eight to 10 years with him in the national team," said Puno, also the vice chairman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
"There is no doubt that his presence will allow Gilas Pilipinas to keep in step with the other national teams, most of whom have their own naturalized players," he added.
Kouame follows in the footsteps of Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche, both of whom have played significant roles in the country's recent basketball milestones.
Douthit was part of the Gilas team that won silver in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, while Blatche played for the Philippines in the 2014 and 2019 editions of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Puno has no doubt that Kouame will make a similar impact on Gilas after seeing the center from Ivory Coast develop during his time with Ateneo de Manila University. Kouame was the UAAP's Rookie of the Year in 2018, before helping the Blue Eagles complete a 16-0 sweep of the league in 2019.
"Just as he has done for the Ateneo, I believe that Ange can lend his talent and expertise to Gilas Pilipinas, and help it win future competitions," he said.
With the passage of House Bill 8632 on third and final reading, it will now be transmitted to the Senate, where its counterpart Senate Bill No. 1892 was filed by SBP chairman Senator Sonny Angara.
Puno is hopeful that the bill will prosper in the Upper House as well, especially as Gilas Pilipinas expects to compete in the FIBA Asia Cup in August.
"With our country co-hosting the upcoming 2023 FIBA World Cup with Japan and Indonesia, there is more pressure for our national team to field an impressive lineup. This is why I hope that Ange Kouame will become a Philippine citizen as soon as possible," he said.
Puno has also been pushing for a pool of naturalized players to be made available for Gilas Pilipinas.
According to FIBA Internal Regulations, national basketball teams can only field one player who has acquired the legal nationality of the country by naturalization or by any other means after having reached the age of 16.