MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo center Ange Kouame is unlikely to be naturalized in time for the second window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, but he remains a major part of the Philippine national team's plans moving forward.
Kouame, a 6-foot-10 center from the Ivory Coast, was included in the Gilas Pilipinas training pool for the November window. He joined a team composed mostly of collegiate players, as most of the PBA stars are still in the league's bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
While Kouame's inclusion is a welcome development for the team, Ryan Gregorio admits that it will be almost impossible for him to play later this month when Gilas Pilipinas returns to action in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers in a "bubble" in Bahrain.
"Senator Sonny Angara and Congressman Robbie Puno (are) doing everything just to make sure na the papers are moving," said Gregorio, the special assistant to Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio.
Puno filed House Bill No. 5951 in January, which looks to grant Filipino citizenship to Kouame. In October, Angara filed a partner bill in the Senate.
"But for this particular window, we are not sure," Gregorio said of Kouame's participation.
"Some of the things are beyond our control," added Gregorio, who appeared on "2OT" to discuss the upcoming qualifying window. "If there is a magic (that) we can do for Kouame to be available come November 27, by all means we're gonna take it."
"But if not, we understand that there is a process," he said. "The government is obviously trying to do everything it can to fast-track whatever is necessary."
Even if Kouame is not naturalized in time for the November window, Gregorio is optimistic that he will be available by the next round of qualifiers in February 2021. What's crucial at the moment is for Kouame to learn the system that the national team will be using, and get to know the players who will be his future teammates.
He is already familiar with several of them, having played together in the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Kouame should also have no trouble in mastering the system devised by program director Tab Baldwin, who is also his head coach in college.
"(We) might as well utilize him this early, as part of our scouting team for example," said Gregorio.
"This is not about the x's and o's of basketball. The attitude and character also play a big role, and we have to get early on in your practice sessions para lang sigurado you will be able to embrace the kind of tema we want to establish to represent our Gilas Pilipinas in future international competitions," he added.
Gregorio also guarantees that Kouame is part of the national team program's longterm plans.
"What is certain is Kouame will be part of the journey for the long haul, 2023. 'Yun ang nagbibigay sa atin talaga ng a lot of excitement," he said.
In the meantime, they are ready to go to battle with a team bannered by the five PBA players lent by their mother teams to the Gilas program: Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto, Allyn Bulanadi, and Rey Suerte.
Also part of the pool are brothers Javi and Juan Gomez de Liano, Jaydee Tungcab, Dwight Ramos, Dave Ildefonso, Kobe Paras, Justine Baltazar, Will Navarro, Kenmark Carino, and Calvin Oftana.
Gilas Pilipinas is 1-0 in Group A after a 100-70 rout of Indonesia in their first qualifying game in February. They play Thailand on November 26, South Korea on November 28, and Thailand again on November 30.
The national team is currently training at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna in preparation for the qualifiers later this month.