So Angelo Kouame is now a naturalized player. That’s good news for Philippine basketball.
The bill was passed into law when President Rodrigo Duterte signed the document that made the two-time UAAP champion a Filipino.
Now, Kouame, a big man who has a similar mobility of two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, can start serving the Philippine men’s basketball team and playing for the national team for a long stretch.
It was a similar process players like Chip Engelland, Jeff Moore and Dennis Still, players who were members of the Northern Consolidated Cement, the chief backer of the national team during the 1980s, went through.
When the program was established by then Ambassador Danding Cojuangco in 1981, these three became naturalized players and went on to play and serve the country until 1986, before the program was scrapped right after the ESDSA Revolution.
Only 23, Kouame has a chance to grow -- figuratively and literally -- with the national team program. And if 7’3” Kai Sotto can play constantly in Gilas Pilipinas’ major international campaigns, we’re going to have a chance seeing a bigger, taller and younger Philippine men’s basketball team.
More than the things he could bring to the table -- defense, rebounding, inside and out game and versatility -- it’s the years of service he could provide to the Philippine men’s basketball team that was given more consideration.
Unlike the previous naturalized players -- Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche, two former NBA players -- who were only good for three to five years, Kouame can be utilized for a long period of time.
Kouame and Sotto together?
Sky is the limit for Philippine basketball and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas will just have to make arrangements at how they can get these two players work together for a long stretch.
It’s been proven that sending the best players won’t guarantee good results, but having the best trained players working together will give the Philippines a good fighting chance of winning.
The NCC program has benefited from that.
Built for the long term, that program wasn’t composed of the best of the best of Philippine basketball, but the team was the best-prepared squad, beefed up by the right players playing special roles like Allan Caidic and Engelland taking care of the shooting, Samboy Lim driving his way to the hoop, Hector Calma setting the direction inside the court and Moore and Still doing the dirty job.
Kouame and Sotto had been identified as gems and what Philippine basketball needs is to surround them with people playing certain roles, complementing their game and growing up with them.
The SBP should continue planting the seeds.