MANILA, Philippines -- Deputy Speaker Robbie Puno, also the vice chairman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), has high expectations of Ange Kouame after the Ateneo de Manila University center was officially granted Filipino citizenship on Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11543, which granted Kouame Philippine citizenship and paved the way for the Blue Eagles big man to join the Philippine national men's basketball team.
Kouame has been training with Gilas Pilipinas since last year in anticipation of his naturalization.
"All our hard work has finally paid off," said Puno, who authored House Bill No. 8632 which sought to grant Philippine citizenship to the 6-foot-10 recruit from the Ivory Coast in West Africa.
"I thank the President and our colleagues from Congress and the Senate for recognizing the potential of Ange Kouame as a member of our national basketball team," he added.
The SBP is now in the process of fulfilling FIBA's other requirements for naturalized players.
If all goes according to plan, Kouame should make his debut for Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers next month in Clark, Pampanga. He is also set to join the team in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia from June 29 to July 4.
"His naturalization also comes at such an opportune time," said Puno. "I am excited to see how his presence will change the game for Gilas this year."
Expectations are high for Kouame after his performances for Ateneo in the UAAP.
He was the first foreign student-athlete to win Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, and helped the Blue Eagles complete a perfect 16-0 campaign in 2019. In his sophomore season, he averaged 12.5 points, 11.79 rebounds, and 3.86 blocks per game.
Kouame is the third player that Puno has sponsored for naturalization.
The congressman was also instrumental in the naturalization of former Gilas Pilipinas players Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche. Puno has also called for the creation of a pool of naturalized players for the Philippines.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: