One of the greatest weapons a national sports team has to make their roster formidable in international competition, when there are rules stipulating that only a country’s citizens can join the team, has been their respective government’s ability to naturalize foreigners into citizens. The Philippines capitalized on naturalization to bring in tall and talented players for teams like basketball. For example, American NBA player Andray Blatche was invited to join Gilas Pilipinas for their campaign in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, and Congress got to work on legislation to naturalize him as a Filipino. The move was successful then, and Gilas is looking to Congress for a new naturalization prospect.

Eyed to join the Philippine national men’s basketball team is Ateneo UAAP player Angelo Kouame from the Ivory Coast in Africa, and so the process to have him naturalized kicked off in Congress. With the House of Representatives already passing their bill in favor, the Senate is now looking to finish two bills to make Kouame a Filipino according to the Philippine Star. Senate Bills 1892 and 2058 both passed muster with the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights this week. If successful, Kouame could be tapped to take Andray Blatche’s spot in Gilas.

That much was stated by Sen. Sonny Angara, author of Senate Bill 1892. “Andray Blatche has hit the peak of his career,” he said in the committee panel hearing. “We need some fresh blood and Ange Kouame really provides that.” His assessment is echoed by Gilas interim head coach Jong Uichico, described the 6-foot-10 Ivorian Blue Eagle as having the size, athleticism and energy to protect the rim, not to mention being “highly coachable.” Kouame was part of the Ateneo squad when they played in the 2018 William Jones Cup in Taipei, where he helped to secure a fourth-place finish.

While the next big challenge of the Gilas Pilipinas, qualifying for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup, remains in stasis with how long the qualifiers have been put off from finishing, that should give more time to wrap up Kouame’s naturalization process to cement his place in the national team. Considering that his basketball experience was primarily defined in the Philippines since playing for Ateneo, he is actually a more appropriate naturalized player compared to Andray Blatche or Marcus Douthit. For now, the Senate is still going into a second reading for the Ivorian’s naturalization bills.

Image courtesy of Tiebreaker Times