By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
THE country’s national basketball team program got an added boost on Tuesday as it was announced that the Filipino naturalization of Ivorian big man Angelo Kouame had been approved and made official.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) head Al S. Panlilio made the announcement, saying that Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the bill into law after it cleared the House of Representatives and the Senate previously.
“The SBP thanks all of our allies in both houses whose support has been crucial in pushing this legislation to further strengthen our Gilas Pilipinas Men,” said Mr. Panlilio in a statement.
The naturalization bill of 6’10” Kouame, 23, was authored in the House of Representatives by Congressman Robbie Puno, with Senator Sonny Angara, along with Senators Joel Villanueva and Richard Gordon, filing the bill in the Senate.
Mr. Kouame, who plays for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) champions Ateneo Blue Eagles, “will now undergo the final steps required by FIBA before a naturalized player can suit up for a country.”
Mr. Panlilio is the SBP is confident that the newly naturalized player can suit up for the two immediate tournaments in line for Gilas, namely the FIBA Asia Qualifiers here and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia set for next month.
The SBP president went on to say that Mr. Koaume will be a great addition to the Gilas program not only for the upcoming tournaments but for future competitions as well, notably the 2023 FIBA World Cup which the country is co-hosting.
“It’s a great day for Philippine basketball and we’re thankful for the full support of our basketball community,” said Mr. Panlilio.
For his part, Mr. Kouame showed his appreciation for the development by boldly proclaiming his being Filipino.
“Pre, Filipino ako!” he wrote on Twitter, with the post accompanied by the Philippine flag.
Mr. Koaume has been a big part of the Blue Eagles, helping the team in winning its last two UAAP titles — 2018 and 2019. He was also the league’s rookie of the year in 2018.
He is now part of the Gilas pool of players training in a “bubble” at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, in preparation for the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
The nationals are to compete in the third and final window of the qualifiers set for June 16 to 20 in Clark, Pampanga, where they will seek to formalize their entry into the FIBA Asia Cup in their games versus Korea (June 16 and 20) and Indonesia (June 18).
Gilas currently leads Group A with an unblemished 3-0 record, followed by Korea (2-0), Indonesia (1-2) and Thailand (0-4).
After the Asia Cup Qualifiers, the national team then competes in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia from June 29 to July 4.
Meanwhile, as of this writing, no word yet on the status of the Filipino naturalization of Spanish football player Bienvenido Maranon that was filed around the same time as that of Mr. Kouame’s.
Like Mr. Kouame, footballer Maranon is being considered for the national team if allowed to play as a naturalized player.