No Kouame in third window: Naturalization process could last beyond February, says Puno
Gilas Pilipinas needs one more win to qualify for the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup.
The team will shoot for that win without a reinforcement as the naturalization process of Angelo Kouame isn’t expected to be completed by February, the schedule of the third window of qualifiers for the Asian basketball centerpiece.
“That wasn’t a likely possibility in the first place,” Rep. Roberto Puno, the principal sponsor of House Bill No. 5951, the law that makes the 6-foot-10 Ateneo center a Filipino, told the Inquirer on Tuesday. “Those who had earlier said that he could be available for the February window were merely expressing a hope that the process would be done by then.”
A source had earlier told the Inquirer that Kouame’s naturalization hit a delay in its second reading and failed to get an approval before the House of Representatives went into its break.
“[The process] was under time pressure anyway and the delay just made things more difficult,” the source said.
But Puno said the delays before the Dec. 16 break were not that significant, adding that the biggest slowdown was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We filed the bill in January and by February, we were asked 21 documentary requirements to complete,” Puno said. “We only completed those requirements last October because a lot of these documents required personal appearances, which were difficult because of the [COVID-19 lockdowns].”
The earliest that the Congress can finish its version of the bill is on March. And with the Senate needing to wrap up its own version of the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, the earliest possible time that Kouame could suit up for the Philippines will be the Fiba Asia Cup in August next year in Indonesia.
Kouame is currently the lone naturalization candidate for the country, meaning Gilas Pilipinas will have to make do with a pure local lineup in the third window. The Philippines sports a 3-0 card in Group A and will have three games in February’s qualifying leg at Clark Freeport.
Gilas Pilipinas faces Group A rivals South Korea twice and Indonesia once—and both countries are expected to field naturalized players. The powerhouse Koreans have former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) import Ricardo Ratliffe (Korean name: Ra Gun-ah) in tow while Indonesia will be led by another ex-PBA reinforcement Lester Prosper.
In Kouame’s absence, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is hoping to have a strong representation from the PBA for the third window. The SBP is set to submit a list of players it wants for the pool to the PBA. INQ
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