There’s no question that Ange Kouame is one of the big reasons why Ateneo has a dynasty in UAAP men’s basketball, and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is looking at tapping the talents of the Ivorian center for the “long-term” and help Gilas Pilipinas in many international tournaments.
“Kouame we have submitted (for naturalization), and he is (for the) long-term,” SBP president Al Panlilio told the Inquirer Monday when asked how his agency is doing with the process of naturalizing players who will take the place of Andray Blatche.
“We need 2-3 names in the pool (of naturalized players),” Panlilio said.
Blatche, the former Brooklyn Net in the NBA, started suiting up for the Philippines in 2014, helping the Filipinos win a group phase match in the World Cup for the first time in over 40 years when Gilas outsteadied Senegal, 81-79, in Seville, Spain.
Though vastly talented and truly willing to don the Philippine red-white-and-blue, Blatche is not the player he once was as he performed well below par in the 2019 edition in China where the Filipinos got blown off the floor every night to finish dead last.
Kouame is just 20 years old and what people have seen him do in the UAAP for the reigning four-time champion Blue Eagles could just be the tip of his true potential, having learned the game at a late age and taking it up full time when he came to the Philippines.
With him, Ateneo went 16-0 last year despite being a player who didn’t ask for the ball all the time. Thirdy Ravena was actually the star scorer of the Eagles.
The Philippines’ biggest international event coming will have to be the 2023 Fiba World Cup, which it will co-host with Indonesia and Japan, and the SBP has made it no secret that it would want to come up with the strongest possible team and give this cage-crazy nation something to cheer about.
The names of Justin Brownlee, Barangay Ginebra’s do-it-all resident import, and Chris McCullough have also cropped up as candidates, with NorthPort owner Mikee Romero, according to Panlilio, sponsoring Brownlee’s bill for naturalization.
Brownlee is a good prospect, also according to the SBP president. But the Philippines would have to have all of its big men playing–like June Mar Fajardo and Kai Sotto–if Gilas is to tap Brownlee, who is a shade under 6-foot-5.
While experts and fans have a loud clamor for McCullough, who is rangy at close to 6-foot-10, to suit up, Panlilio said that the SBP hasn’t started anything yet as far as San Miguel Beer’s import in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup last year is concerned.
Sotto, who is in the United States, has foregone college and recently signed a G League contract, which, Panlilio fears, would give him a schedule that could conflict with that of the Philippine Five that would want all of its players to play together longer before Fiba 2023.
McCullough rescued the Beermen in that tournament last year, coming in as a late replacement for Charles Rhodes before brandishing an inside-outside game that is a real fit for the international game.
“McCullough has indicated interest, but we haven’t discussed (it) yet,” Panlilio said, although in an earlier interview, the Smart/PLDT president said that he feels McCullough has the talent to play internationally.
McCullough has posted on several of his tweets that he would love to play for Gilas in the future.