ANGE Kouame's availability for Gilas Pilipinas is the biggest plus going for the Ivorian slotman as he undertakes the process of naturalization.
Gilas program director Tab Baldwin said House Bill No. 5951, filed by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) vice-chairman and Antipolo Rep. Robbie Puno seeking to grant Filipino citizenship to Kouame, will be a big advantage to the national team moving forward, especially as the squad embarks on its preparation for the 2023 Fiba World Cup.
"Ange's papers are already in with Cong. Robbie Puno and I think he's already been proposed," he said. "It has to go through the political process and we're looking forward to hopefully get Ange naturalized and have him as a guy who's available to choose if that's the direction we want to go."
For Baldwin, Kouame's presence could help Gilas on its immediate needs, especially if problems arise on the other prospects for naturalization in the future.
"In the short term, Ange is probably going to be a guy that's available whenever we need him," he said. "But we obviously would like to get other candidates who possibly have more experience or a higher caliber player at this point in their careers, and that's the goal."
The American-Kiwi mentor acknowledges that Kouame is still a far from a finished product compared to the other players floated for the pool.
That's despite the standout season the 6-foot-10 bruiser had in UAAP Season 82, where he averaged 12.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, and 1.4 assists in Ateneo's 16-game sweep en route to the championship.
Yet Baldwin is upbeat that with the attitude shown by the 20-year-old center, he could be a valuable asset for the Philippines moving forward .
"There's still a lot of work that Ange has to do. He's still, offensively, a below average center. But we know that he can rebound, he can defend, and I really believe that Filipinos, we have a lot of good scorers. So I think getting him up to speed quickly in that aspect is a secondary issue for us and for him," he said.
"Obviously, we don't want any holes in the game of our naturalized player, but nobody's perfect. So it's just a process and we're really looking at 2023 and who that player is going to be then? And we know that Ange is going to be much, much, much better in 2023.
"So it's about taking him down that pathway and him helping the national team down that pathway but also, having lots of reserve plans if the occasion arises."