Ange Kouame was full of excitement upon learning that his naturalization bill was signed into law last Monday, finally granting him Filipino citizenship.
That also means he is eligible to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments, including two important meets next month — the prestigious FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia.
Despite his delight, the cager from Cote d’Ivoire is also aware of the responsibility that comes along with being a naturalized player.
Kouame admitted that he already feels the pressure of taking such a mantle fulfilled by accomplished, well-revered players in the past.
“Yeah. I actually feel the pressure,” the soft-spoken 23-year-old told 2OT x Crossover, presented by SMART Sports Thursday evening.
Naturalized players have been an integral part of the Gilas program. The pioneering batch had Marcus Douthit; then in 2014, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas brought in NBA veteran Andray Blatche.
And both players brought much to the national team. Douthit helped the Filipino dribblers to a fourth-place finish in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, which, at that time, was the country’s best finish in several years.
Blatche, meanwhile, was the Nationals’ reinforcement in the 2014 FIBA World Cup — the country’s first trip to the global cagefest in nearly four decades. He also played in the 2019 edition in China, which proved to be his last run with Gilas.
Douthit, on the other hand, made it possible by helping the country take silver in the 2013 FIBA Asia Cup.
PBA stars Christian Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle also shouldered the role back in 2018. They took turns serving as the team’s naturalized players in the World Cup Qualifiers during the time of Yeng Guiao.
While the task ahead feels daunting, the 6-foot-10 center is doing his best to remain focused and grounded.
“You know, it depends on whether I put myself on other people’s thoughts, or play the way I always play. If people have their eyes on me and believe that I have potential, I have to believe in my potential too and then go with the flow,” said Kouame.
“I don’t really wanna try to compare myself to the kuyas. I’ll try to go with the flow, and may God help me.”