MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo de Manila University center Ange Kouame is still a key part of the Philippine national team's plans for the future, even with Jordan Clarkson emerging as the squad's top choice to be the naturalized player.
An ideal scenario for Gilas Pilipinas would be for Clarkson to play as a local, while Kouame will be their naturalized player. However, FIBA has denied the Philippines' bid for Clarkson to be considered a local and can thus only play in FIBA events as a naturalized player.
Clarkson is virtually a lock to be the country's naturalized player when Gilas plays in the FIBA World Cup next year. This doesn't mean, however, that Kouame is out of the picture for the national team.
"If we decide on Jordan, yes. And Ange is aware of that," Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director and spokesperson Sonny Barrios said on Tuesday, when asked if Kouame will not suit up for Gilas in the World Cup.
"But it doesn't mean that Ange's naturalization will go to waste," Barrios immediately added.
Kouame, the reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player, was naturalized in 2021. He went on to play in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2021, and the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers earlier this year.
A knee injury forced him to miss the recent FIBA World Cup qualifying window as well as the FIBA Asia Cup, however.
Kouame will not see action in the upcoming window of the qualifiers as well, with Clarkson arriving to play for Gilas instead. But Barrios said the Ivory Coast-born center is likely to be called up in the subsequent FIBA windows.
"Clarkson will not be around for window 5, will not be around for window 6, will not be around for the Southeast Asian Games," said Barrios. "So marami pa tayong pwedeng pag-gamitan kay Ange."
Kouame himself made it clear that he remains very much committed to Gilas Pilipinas, even expressing his frustration at being unable to play in their recent tournaments.
"It was super painful for me, just to sit and watch them play," Kouame said.
"If the national team calls me, for sure I will represent. I will still be there no matter what's going on," he added. "At the end of the day, it's something that I chose, and I love my job, too."
"No matter what's gonna happen, I'm still gonna represent, I'm still gonna be present for the national team."