MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo de Manila University center Ange Kouame was full of praise for Gilas Pilipinas after their triumph over Thailand on Friday night, as the young Filipinos took down a team of professional players.
Dwight Ramos -- Kouame's future teammate in the Blue Eagles -- made all seven of his shots to finish with 20 points. Justine Baltazar shone in his first-ever game for the national team, and Matt Nieto was as steady as ever, dishing out six assists.
The result was an impressive victory for a youthful Philippine squad which had zero professional experience. More than that, it marked the first time that they had played together, as the squad trained for just a couple of weeks before heading to the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in Manama, Bahrain.
As pleased as he was with the result of the game, Kouame would have liked it more had he gotten to play with Gilas Pilipinas. The Ateneo center is a candidate for naturalization, but his papers weren't processed in time for the November window.
"I can't wait (to play for Gilas)," Kouame said in the post-game show hosted on "2OT" on Friday night.
"That's the best, because who would have expected me, becoming a naturalized player," added Kouame, who hails from the Ivory Coast.
"I'm so thankful… I'm not Filipino from the blood, but I commit myself 100% to it," he vowed. "It's something that's really coming from my chest. I really wanna do it, I really wanna be part of it."
While he did not suit up for the November 2020 window, Kouame still took part in the team's training camp at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna ahead of the competition.
The big man has helped fellow Ateneo center Isaac Go develop throughout their time with the Blue Eagles, and during camp Kouame also got to work with De La Salle University's Baltazar and San Beda University's Kemark Carino.
The hope is that by the next window in February 2021, he can suit up with them and represent the Philippines.
"I think so," he said when asked if he will play come February. "Hopefully."
According to officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), Kouame's naturalization is on track, and if all goes well, he should be able to play by February. The organization has made it clear that he is part of the long-term plan of the national team.
"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," said Ryan Gregorio, the special assistant to SBP president Al Panlilio.