Press Release
March 3, 2021

Villanueva sets aside school hoops rivalry, backs citizenship for Ateneo standout

Senator Joel Villanueva endorsed at the Senate the grant of Filipino citizenship to Ateneo standout Ange Kouame, who is being eyed by Gilas Pilipinas as its naturalized player for the upcoming 2021 FIBA Regional Qualifiers.

Villanueva, who suited up for the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers team that strung together four consecutive championships in the UAAP in the 1990s, credited the work ethic of Kouame, the first foreign player to win Rookie of the Year honors in the collegiate league in 2018.

"Naturalization and the grant of Philippine citizenship to Kouame would surely brighten the colors of our flag and send the Filipino athlete flying high," Villanueva said in a speech Tuesday sponsoring a bill to grant citizenship to Kouame.

"As a Filipino, a former member of the national team and a basketball enthusiast, it is my honor to support the granting of Philippine citizenship to Mr. Kakou Ange Franck Williams Kouame," said Villanueva, who also suited up for the country's youth squad in 1994.

Villanueva said Kouame not only dominated the basketball scene but also "captivated the admiration of many Filipinos, both young and old."

He recalled the time when Ateneo won the UAAP championship and Senator Richard Gordon "was flashing all these pictures" showing court celebrations and fans and supporters of UST Growling Tigers, UST's UAAP team where Villanueva played, were sad in the background.

"It was painful Mr. President," Villanueva said in his speech in jest.

"Nonetheless, this Growling Tiger is willing to give an assist to the sponsor who is a Blue Eagle cheerleader so he can slam-dunk this bill," Villanueva said of Gordon, who was once a member of Ateneo's Blue Babble Batallion.

Kouame, according to Villanueva, "has embraced the Filipino culture and tradition and our people and has made the Philippines his home."

Kouame is a 6'10" center from Ivory Coast who currently plays for Ateneo but is being recruited to play for the Gilas Pilipinas.

According to Villanueva, Kouame has committed to play for the Philippine team in the Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.

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