Naturalized player Angelo Kouame said that after years of waiting, he can now concentrate on playing basketball as Gilas Pilipinas prepares for two important FIBA-sanctioned tournaments next month.
The naturalization paper of Kouame was signed into law last week by President Rodrigo Duterte, making the 6-foot-10 center eligible to play for the national team as a naturalized player.
“I am super excited. I’ve been watching these guys playing the last time on TV,” Kouame said Saturday, May 22, as he appeared on The Chasedown on One PH over Cignal TV.
“I felt like it would be good for me to be part of it. I’ve been waiting for that (naturalization) for so long so I feel happy and blessed about it, now it’s going to happen,” said Kouame, who had to gather his papers in his native Ivory Coast in 2019 for the naturalization process.
Kouame said that Ateneo benefactor Manny V. Pangilinan talked to him regarding the idea of him being naturalized. TheSamahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), led by its president Al Panlilio, discussed with him the details of the naturalization process.
He talked to his family about it, and his mother Juliette Kouassi Kouame gave him the blessing to go with the procedure. His father, Galou Theodire Kouame died when he was 16, the time he started playing basketball as his outlet.
“I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything yet. I try to get myself motivated, keep pushing and keep moving forward. I’m still a learner of this game, I take every day as a step and keep improving with my game.”
The national team is preparing for the third window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers scheduled in Clark, Pampanga, as well as the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) for the Tokyo Olympics in Belgrade, Serbia.
The national team plays South Korea twice, and Indonesia in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers on June 16 to 20, and then the Filipinos take on the Dominican Republic and host Serbia in the OQT on June 29 to July 4.
Aside from the two FIBA-sanctioned tournaments, the national team will defend their championship in this year’s Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam later this year.
All these events are part of the preparation for the 2023 FIBA World Cup the Philippine will co-host with Japan and Indonesia. Gilas project director Tab Baldwin has formed a pool of players from the amateur ranks, including Kouame – his player with the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
The 23-year-old Kouame said that he sees himself playing for the national team until his 40s.
But for now, part of his immediate plans is to bring his mother here.
“I think it would be a good idea, it would be good for me actually. I miss them. It’s good for me to bring them here. She was so happy (that I got naturalized),” Kouame, who likes beef kaldereta, said.