Gilas Pilipinas Men officially has its man in the middle for the present and the future after President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the naturalization bill of Ange Kouame.
"I'm super hyped right now. I'm screaming everywhere around the house right now. I'm proud, just proud to be a kababayan," shared Kouame with ESPN5.com, clearly elated with the development.
Pre , Filipino ako ! 🇵🇭— kouameangelo1 (@kouameangelo1) May 18, 2021
Due to an amendment by SBP Chairman Sen. Sonny Angara, Kouame became a Filipino immediately after Duterte's signature instead of the customary 15-day grace period after the law's publication in a major newspaper.
According to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), Kouame still has a number of steps to go before he can officially play for the Philippines. Still, his addition gives a much-needed boost for a Gilas cadet squad preparing for several FIBA tournaments starting June.
The Ateneo Blue Eagle will now be compelled to proclaim an Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines administered by the Bureau of Immigration. He will afterwards apply for a Philippine passport, which could be obtained in days.
"We are confident that he'll be able to play during our hosting of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia," said SBP Pres. Al S. Panlilio of the newly naturalized 6-foot-10 center.
"Although Kouame's presence is crucial for these two tournaments, having him as an official member of the squad in the upcoming games is an early investment as we build towards the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. It's a great day for Philippine basketball and we're thankful for the full support of our basketball community," added Panlilio.
The House of Representatives unanimously approved their version of the bill naturalizing the Ivory Coast-born Kouame last Feb. 16, while the Senate followed suit a month later.
"We thank our SBP Chairman, Sen. Sonny Angara, along with Senators Joel Villanueva and Richard Gordon for filing the bill in the Senate and our Vice Chairman, Rep. Robbie Puno, for authoring the bill in the House of Representatives," mentioned Panlilio. "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."
Sen. Angara was the principal author of Senate Bill 1892 on the naturalization of Kouame. The bill is the counterpart of House Bill 8632 filed by Rep. Puno.
"We thank President Duterte for signing into law the naturalization bill for Ange Kouame," Angara said in a statement. "I, together with the rest of the SBP are excited for Kouame to officially join our Gilas Pilipinas as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers, the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and other tournaments.
"At 6 feet 10 inches, Kouame will definitely beef up our talented Gilas squad and bring with him the hard work and tenacity that has helped deliver championships to the Ateneo Men's Basketball team in the UAAP. And with the likes of Kai Sotto and Dwight Ramos also committing to be part of the national squad, I am very optimistic about our chances in future international basketball tournaments."
"All our hard work has finally paid off and finally, we'll get to see Ange with Gilas Pilipinas for the upcoming FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT)," said Puno.
"Of course, I thank the President and our colleagues from Congress and the Senate for recognizing the potential of Ange Kouame as a member of our national basketball team. His naturalization also comes at such an opportune time and I am excited to see how his presence will change the game for Gilas this year."