Gilas naturalized center Ange Kouame a proud product of Philippine basketball

play
Ange Kouame as Gilas naturalized player (2:22)

Ange Kouame is counting the days until he can finally suit up as a naturalized player for the Philippines. (2:22)

CALAMBA, Laguna - On March 15, the Senate approved the naturalization of Ange Kouame as their bill merged with the already passed version from the House of Representatives.

With the green light from Congress, it's just a matter of time - or President Rodrigo Duterte's signature - before the Ivory Coast-born 6-foot-10 center becomes a fully-fledged Filipino.

After his naturalization is signed or lapses into law, Kouame will then be required to proclaim an Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines, which will be registered by Bureau of Immigration. After the issuance of Kouame's Certificate of Naturalization, he'll then have to apply for a Philippine passport.

Even before the president's signature or the bill lapsing into law, however, Kouame is already putting in the work with Gilas Pilipinas Men inside the 'bubble' in Calamba, Laguna; all while keenly awaiting the day he could officially wear the flag.

"I'm anxious and excited at the same time, but mostly excited. It's been a year now since we started the process and I've prepared myself for it emotionally and mentally," admitted Kouame.

If there's a silver lining with the cancellations of the final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, it's that there's a strong chance Kouame could finally be suiting up in a Gilas jersey for the first time.

"I'm really excited about it. I've been thinking about it since we exited from the 'bubble' [after the cancellation of Qatar's hosting]," he explained as the Inter-Agency Task Force has OK'd the 'Clark Bubble' for the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

"Being at home, I just did physical preparations since we could not get outside for shooting or any kind of practices. I was really excited to enter this 'bubble' because this is going to be the most important," explained the 23-year-old.

If he gets to play in Clark, Ateneo's incoming third-year big would be immediately tested, going up against two naturalized players in South Korea's Ricardo Ratliffe and Indonesia's Lester Prosper.

"I already played against Ratliffe in the Jones Cup. For Prosper, I'm not yet sure about what type of player he is, but I've seen a couple of his games in the PBA. I'll scout them to see their weaknesses and strengths, but I'm really excited to go up against these guys," he answered when asked about the former PBA imports.

Three years ago, Ateneo faced South Korea and Ratliffe did damage against Kouame, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds even after only playing the first half. The more experienced Koreans made quick work of the Blue Eagles, 90-73.

The ex-UAAP Rookie of the Year wound up with 10 points and 16 rebounds in the loss, but is confident he has improved a lot since then.

Aside from playing in a system he's already comfortable with, another thing Kouame has going for him is getting additional training from 17-year NBA veteran Alton Lister.

"It's big for me because he's the kind of coach who'll always push me to keep working out. Having him around, I'm trying to learn as much as I can from him," he explained. "He has taught me a lot like how to move and how to play inside the paint. It's really helpful. I keep learning from him every single day."

Most naturalized players have experience playing basketball at a very high level. That was the case for Philippines' previous two naturalized players as Marcus Douthit was drafted 56th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft before taking his talents all over the world while Andray Blatche played a combined nine years for Washington and Brooklyn and then starred in China.

Kouame, on the other hand, is unique because although he has long had great physique and potential, his development as a basketball player only got going once he touched down in the Eagles' nest.

At the same time, though, that means that Ange Kouame would be playing for Gilas not only as a naturalized Filipino, but a real product of Philippine basketball.

"I've gotten most of my basketball knowledge here in the Philippines with Ateneo and it has helped me as a player individually," shared Kouame, "So you can really say that I am a product of Philippine basketball."