MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo de Manila University center Ange Kouame knows that there will be inevitable comparisons between him and other naturalized players who have suited up for Gilas Pilipinas.
Kouame, who has helped the Blue Eagles win two UAAP titles, officially became a Filipino citizen last week after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the bill for his naturalization.
He is expected to start playing for the Philippines in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers that will take place in a bubble in Clark, Pampanga on June 16-20. It will be a baptism of fire for Kouame, as Gilas plays continental powerhouse South Korea twice in the window.
Kouame, who hails from the Ivory Coast, is following in the footsteps of Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche, who were both given Filipino citizenship and played for the Philippines in major FIBA events. Blatche, in particular, suited up in two World Cups with Gilas Pilipinas.
"I actually feel the pressure," said Kouame on the "2OT x Crossover" podcast, when asked about the comparisons with Douthit and Blatche.
"But you know, it depends on whether I put myself on people’s thought or I usually play the way I always play," he added.
Rather than dwell on the comparisons, Kouame said his focus will be on helping the national team and maximizing the potential that the Gilas Pilipinas coaches saw in him.
"If I'm in this spot, it's because people are high on me and they believe in my potential," he pointed out.
"So I have to believe in my potential too and go with the flow," he added. "I don't really want to compare myself to, you know, mga kuyas."
"I would try to go with the flow."
Helping Kouame's cause is his familiarity with his Gilas Pilipinas teammates. The center has been training with the national team pool since November 2020, even before his naturalization was made official.
He is now looking forward to putting on the Gilas uniform and making his international debut for the Philippines.
"I feel like it's gonna be a great feeling for me to wear the jersey and represent this country," he said.