DEFENDING three-time champion Ateneo will not pounce on an eligibility loophole if and when 6-foot-10 center Ange Kouame becomes a naturalized Filipino, according to coach Tab Baldwin.
That means Ateneo is not looking to field in another import while Kouame is still playing for the squad.
“I’ve heard the same rumors and we have not discussed it. I can tell you how I feel about that. I don’t know what the UAAP’s view about that is gonna be and I think they will be well within their rights to look at it on an individual basis and judge it on an individual basis,” Baldwin said on the Coaches Unfiltered podcast.
“I can tell you that as the coach of the team, I would not and I’m not the only decision-maker, but I would not be looking to add another import player. I would not be looking to take advantage of Ange becoming a ‘local’ just because possibly the rules have not considered that scenario yet,” he added.
Kouame’s bid to become a local that will allow him to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas got a shot in the arm after the House committee on justice approved last Dec. 1 House Bill No. 5951 seeking to grant Filipino citizenship to the native of Ivory Coast.
The bill, authored by Deputy Speaker and Antipolo first district Rep. Robbie Puno, also the vice chairman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, and was filed last Jan. 20.
A counterpart Senate Bill 1892 authored by SBP chairman and Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara was filed last Oct. 22.
Baldwin wants his charges to win on equal footing with their foes.
“For me, I think I would rather our team play on the same basis of every other team and every other team has one foreign player and because Ange may legitimately change his nationality it doesn’t really change the perspective on which he was brought to the country for college basketball,” Baldwin, who is the program director of SBP, said.
“So, I would not be in favor of exploiting that sort of loophole to try and gain more competitive advantage for the team.”
The hulking Kouame averaged 12.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the last UAAP cage wars where the Eagles annexed their third straight title via a 16-0 season.
A former Rookie of the Year awardee in 2018, Kouame is still eligible to suit up for the Katipunan-based five for three more years.
Like the rest, Baldwin said his team is still patiently doing workouts at home.
“Probably, what I would say would be similar from the other universities, too, from what I am understanding all of our Ateneo players are doing daily workouts individually, most of them at home, some of them now and I think most of them now are able to find courts where they can do some individual workouts on courts but they’re self-coached at this point,” he said.
“We can only give them drills and instructions, they video it, they submit their videos, the coaching staff reviews the videos and give them feedback. That’s about the extent of it.”
Ateneo lost star wingman Thirdy Ravena, who is proving his worth as an import for San-En NeoPhoenix in the Japan B. League; big man Isaac Go, twins Matt and Mike Nieto, who were tabbed in the special Gilas draft last December, and shooter Adrian Wong, who was drafted and signed up by Rain or Shine in the pro league.
Aside from Kouame, playmaker SJ Belangel, slotman William Navarro, wingman Gian Mamuyac, and guard Tyler Tio are likely to return and lead Ateneo’s bid to pull off a ‘four-peat’ in the next UAAP cage wars.
Forward Raffy Verano and shooter Jolo Mendoza are expected to return to action for the Eagles after sitting out last season due to academics.
Ateneo will also have blue-chip recruits Dwight and Eli Ramos in the league’s 83rd season.