MANILA, Philippines -- As Gilas Pilipinas gears up for a series of international competitions, veteran guard Kiefer Ravena is crossing his fingers that Ange Kouame will complete his naturalization sooner rather than later.
Ravena saw firsthand how much of an impact Kouame can make for the Philippines, as they were part of the pool of players that trained at the Inspire Sports Academy in January. The national team was supposed to prepare for the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, but the event was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.
While they were at the Inspire facility in Calamba, Laguna, Kouame's naturalization progressed: he was granted Philippine citizenship by the House of Representatives last month, and last week, the Senate Committee on Justice also approved his naturalization bid.
"Sana done deal na talaga siya," said Ravena of Kouame's naturalization during a recent appearance on "Power and Play" with former PBA commissioner Noli Eala. "Kasi siyempre, darating na June malaking bagay kung makasama talaga sila lahat sa FIBA Olympic qualifiers."
The Philippines will most certainly need Kouame for the Olympic qualifying tournament (OQT) in June, having been tapped by FIBA to compete in the event after New Zealand's withdrawal. There, Gilas will be up against host country Serbia and the Dominican Republic in the group stage. Only the winner of the OQT will secure a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics.
Regardless of how Gilas performs in the Olympic qualifiers, they are expected to plunge right back into action in August in the FIBA Asia Cup that will be hosted by Indonesia.
"(Ange) is going to be a good addition for the team," Ravena guaranteed. "Wala pa naman tayong Pilipino na 6-(foot)-11, very agile, can play from the outside and the inside."
"Tapos siyempre, bata pa si Ange," he added. "'Yung future lineup na gusto mong makita with Ange, with Kai (Sotto), AJ Edu, those guys na will fill out the frontcourt talaga. So ang laki noon."
Kouame made his case for naturalization during his stint with Ateneo de Manila University, having been the Blue Eagles' defensive anchor for the past two seasons of the UAAP. In 2019, the Ivory Coast-born center averaged 12.5 points, 11.79 rebounds, and 3.86 blocks per game to help Ateneo complete a perfect 16-0 campaign.
Deputy Speaker Roberto V. Puno, who is the primary author of House Bill 8632 that sought Kouame's naturalization, said the Ateneo center will help Gilas stay competitive in international events.
"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 said.
Ravena, for his part, said there could be no doubting Kouame's love for the Philippines.
"Si Ange talaga, ang nakakatuwa sa kanya, even before getting naturalized, parang Pilipinong-Pilipino na din talaga siya. So, he's more Filipino than everybody else. So, nagta-Tagalog na 'yan, marunong na siyang makisama," he assured.
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