MANILA, Philippines -- The naturalization process of Ateneo center Ange Kouame is on track, although it remains to be seen if it will be finalized in time for the next window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
Antipolo Representative Robbie Puno filed House Bill 5951 in January, which seeks to grant Philippine citizenship to Kouame, who hails from the Ivory Coast.
In a recent appearance on Sports Page, Ryan Gregorio, the special assistant to Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio, assured that Kouame's naturalization is being pushed in the House of Representatives.
"It's now in Congress for Kouame, Ange Kouame to be naturalized, and we're just waiting for it to be finalized," he said.
The Philippines previously naturalized Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche, with the latter playing for the country in the 2014 and 2019 editions of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
"Our choice of a naturalized player will obviously complement the kind of team that we have at the moment," Gregorio explained. "Coach Tab (Baldwin, the program director for Gilas Pilipinas) would echo this statement as well, that we need a big guy who can really man the slot for us."
Koume fits the profile, as a 6-foot-10 center who has been a major player for the Blue Eagles in the past two seasons. He was the Rookie of the Year in Season 81, and helped Ateneo complete an unprecedented 16-0 campaign in Season 82.
In his sophomore year in the UAAP, Kouame averaged 12.5 points, 11.79 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.86 blocks per game while shooting 53.7% from the field. Already the anchor of the UAAP's best defense, Kouame showed improvement on the other end of the floor, too. He made seven of 18 attempts from beyond the arc in Season 82, after making just one of 12 tries in the previous season.
"We marveled at his performance that helped clinch a 16-0 sweep for the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the 82nd season of the UAAP," Puno said of Kouame. "Mr. Kouame may have had little knowledge of basketball before he came to our shores, but we cannot deny the immense potential he has shown by now."
Yet Kouame is not the only player that the SBP is eyeing for naturalization.
"We've got a couple of names also in the situation, and hopefully they'll also be given an opportunity to be given naturalized citizenship for the Philippines," said Gregorio.
Gregorio did not name names, but former San Miguel import Chris McCullough and Ginebra's resident reinforcement, Justin Brownlee, have long been linked to naturalization as well.
Kouame's naturalization will be a big boost to Gilas Pilipinas, especially if it can be done by November. The national team is set to play in the next window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, which will take place in "bubbles," though the exact venues have yet to be announced by FIBA. Gilas will not have PBA players available for the upcoming window, as the Philippine Cup will still be on-going at the time.