MANILA, Philippines -- Deputy Speaker Robbie Puno, the representative of the first district of Antipolo, on Wednesday welcomed the approval of the measure seeking the naturalization of Ateneo de Manila University center Ange Kouame.
The House Committee on Justice had approved House Bill No. 5951, which seeks to grant Filipino citizenship to Kouame, who hails from the Ivory Coast.
Puno filed the bill in January, with Senator Sonny Angara filing a counterpart bill in the Senate last October 25.
"I am thankful that my colleagues in the House of Representatives recognize the potential Mr. Kouame," Puno said in a statement.
Puno, who is also the vice-chairman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), hailed Kouame's performance for the Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament as well as his potential to contribute to the country's national team program.
Kouame was the UAAP Rookie of the Year in Season 81 and served as the defensive anchor of Ateneo's perfect campaign last season. He averaged 12.5 points, 11.79 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.86 blocks per game while shooting 53.7% from the field in Season 82.
"He's just turning 23 years old before the end of the year, but no one can doubt the immense talent of Mr. Kouame, as shown in the recent 16-0 sweep of the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the recent UAAP season," said Puno.
"I am hopeful that he will bring the same level of intensity as a member of Gilas Pilipinas. We just need to provide him with better opportunities to defend the Philippines internationally," he added.
Kouame was included in the Gilas Pilipinas pool for the second window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, and helped the national team prepare in a brief training camp in Calamba, Laguna.
While he was not included in the Final 12 that competed against Thailand in Manama, Bahrain, Kouame expressed his excitement to join the national team in the future -- possibly as soon as February 2021, in the next qualifying window.
Kouame would just be the third naturalized player to suit up for the Philippines, after Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche. Douthit was instrumental in the Philippines' campaign in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, while Blatche played for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2014 and 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cups.
For Puno, a pool of naturalized players will only improve the country's chances in the 2023 edition of the showpiece event, which the country is co-hosting along with Indonesia and Japan.
"Gilas Pilipinas is in need of a new breed of players, and I am hopeful that we will be able to include Mr. Kouame to their roster," he said. "But of course, we need more like him to ensure not only an exciting start but more importantly a strong finish in the next FIBA World Cup."
SBP president Al Panlilio has previously said that they are looking to have more than one naturalized player, with Ginebra import Justin Brownlee and San Miguel import Chris McCullough among potential candidates.