MANILA, Philippines -- Even if Ange Kouame gains Filipino citizenship, Ateneo de Manila University is unlikely to add another foreign student-athlete to its men's basketball roster.
Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin made it clear that he is not in favor of adding another "import player," although he also maintained that he was not the sole decision-maker within the team.
Kouame, who has been Ateneo's defensive anchor for the past two seasons, may soon receive his Filipino citizenship which will allow him to play for the Philippines in international tournaments. Last week, the House Committee on Justice had approved House Bill No. 5951, which seeks to naturalize the Ivory Coast-born center.
This has inevitably raised concerns that Kouame will play as a local in the UAAP, paving the way for Ateneo to include another "import" in their line-up
"I've heard the same rumors (but) we have not discussed it," said Baldwin during an appearance on "Coaches' Unfiltered" recently.
"I don't know what the UAAP's view about that is gonna be, and I think they will be well within their rights to look at it on an individual basis, and judge it on an individual basis," he added. "I can tell you that as the coach of the team… I would not be looking to add another import player."
Kouame has been superb for the Blue Eagles in his two seasons with the team. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, and in 2019 12.5 points, 11.79 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.86 blocks per game while shooting 53.7%. That same year, Ateneo completed a perfect 16-0 campaign in the UAAP.
In January, he was tapped as a candidate for naturalization by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), and after last week's approval by Congress, the federation hopes he will get to play for Gilas Pilipinas by February 2021.
Baldwin said he is not in favor of "exploiting" the loophole that Kouame's naturalization has opened.
"I would not be looking to take advantage of Ange becoming a 'local' just because possibly the rules has not considered that scenario yet," he said. "For me, I think I would rather our team play on the same basis of every other team."
"Every other team has one foreign player, and because Ange may legitimately change his nationality, it doesn't really change the perspective on which he was brought to the country for college basketball," Baldwin added.
"And so, I would not be in favor of exploiting that sort of loophole to try and gain more competitive advantage for the team."
Kouame is expected to have a bigger role for the Blue Eagles when the team returns to action in the UAAP.
Ateneo lost the core of its three-peat team after Season 82, with Matt and Mike Nieto, Isaac Go, Adrian Wong, and Thirdy Ravena all graduating. Kouame will team up with rising star SJ Belangel and Dwight Ramos, who has already impressed for Gilas Pilipinas, to lead the team in their hunt for a fourth consecutive UAAP crown.