The list for Gilas Pilipinas’ candidates for naturalization may just get a bit bigger.
About 6-foot-10, 215-pounds bigger, to be exact.
One of the names floated around as the next naturalized player for the Philippine men’s basketball team is Ateneo De Manila’s rookie big man Angelo Kouame. The hulking center out of Ivory Coast is currently in his first UAAP season with the Blue Eagles, who are gunning for back-to-back Seniors titles.
In the aftermath of their 71-62 conquest of rivals De La Salle Green Archers, FOX Sports Philippines caught up with Kouame for his thoughts regarding a possible Gilas stint.
The next enforcer?
In past international competitions, the national team has enlisted the services of Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche as naturalized centers. Owing to a FIBA eligibility ruling, PBA standouts Christian Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle are also classified as such despite their Filipino parentage.
Ginebra San Miguel’s resident import Justin Brownlee was reported to have undergone the legal process to acquire Filipino citizenship, with the hopes of suiting up for Team Pilipinas in the future. Known for his humble demeanor on and off the court, Brownlee openly expressed his intentions of possibly settling down here in the country after winning his third PBA championship with the Gin Kings in the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup.
With an impressive showing in the preseason and in the current UAAP Men’s basketball tournament, Kouame caught the attention of fans, as well as national team head coach Yeng Guiao.
In a November 3 interview in the Radio 5 program “Power and Play”, Guiao gushed over the upside of Kouame, who could possibly be a backup enforcer for the national squad.
“Malaki ang potential nun. He’s a young guy. I think he’s 19 years old and he’s a seven-footer. Upside niya in terms of skills and talent, ang laki. Pero at this point, siguro magiging pinaka-backup natin siya just in case we have problems, let’s say kina Andray Blatche or si Christian Standhardinger. He would really be a good backup. Kasi merong mga situation na hindi available itong mga key naturalized players natin. Kaya it’s good to have a standby player like Angelo Kouame,”said Guiao in the Saturday morning sports radio show hosted by Noli Eala.
Kouame believes that the opportunity to don the Pilipinas jersey would further improve his game. For now, the talented Atenean center eagerly anticipates that call from the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
“It’s gonna be good for me. It’s just a thought. But if that happens, I just have to step up,” shared Kouame.
“People around just keep talking about it. I am still waiting for the opportunity.”
Continuing the ascent
In 13 games with Ateneo in Season 81, Kouame has registered team highs of 14.17 points and 13.58 rebounds per contest. Last Sunday against the Green Archers, the Ivorian behemoth finished with 11 markers and 10 boards as the Eagles clinched the top spot in the standings.
Still, he admits to the flaws he still possesses in his young basketball career. Kouame realizes that there’s still lots of work to do despite the gaudy averages he has been posting so far in the season.
“My post game is not yet that good. I want to play like a kind of player that you can call ‘complete’. This is what the Ateneo coaches want for me. I want to play in the highest level,” Kouame opened.
Mother knows best
But despite the kind words from Guiao, Kouame still has to gain the approval of one important person before joining the Philippine team as a foreign reinforcement.
“I’m not sure yet because my mom hasn’t said a word about it”, said Kouame when asked about what, or who, might hinder his inclusion in the national team. Ateneo’s prized center traces his roots to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, before flying in to the Philippines in 2016.
“My mom doesn’t know anything about basketball. But just like every mom, she wants the best for me. All the work I do in basketball is for my family,” Kouame intimated.