Ange Kouame has been a Filipino since May 2021, now a year and four months removed from gaining citizenship by law.
Then, there was no question for him about being naturalized, as aside from being a key cog in the Ateneo de Manila University juggernaut, he also stood as a pillar for whatever plans Gilas Pilipinas had then.
For his mother back in Côte d’Ivoire, though, there was one question.
“I had to make a big decision, so we had a long conversation. In the end, she was okay with it,” he narrated, through chuckles, even though he was still coming back to form following a partial ACL tear.
“Her only concern, the only problem that she thought there would be is if I lost my Ivorian citizenship. Which isn’t the case, so she was good with it.”
Kouame left behind his mother and siblings in 2016, when he flew to the Philippines, taking a chance on himself just as the Blue Eagles took a chance on him.
The Katipunan-based school saw a 6-foot-11 raw mineral that could be polished into shining gold. He saw a golden opportunity for a brighter future — both for himself and his family.
“I really appreciate every moment of it. I’ve been through ups and downs, but at the end of the day, I’m still standing on my feet and to keep moving forward,” he shared. “For sure, I have people I rely on and rely on me. There are good people and bad people, and these are the things I have to learn for myself and be able to put myself in the right position every single time.”
In Ateneo, he found a new family. ‘BEBOB’ they called themselves — the Blue Eagle Band of Brothers, which encompassed the entirety of the program under Tab Baldwin. That program has, so far, gone to five finals and three championships in the UAAP; the last of which in 2019 was via a perfect 16-0 season.
In longtime captain Mike Nieto and frontcourt partner Isaac Go, among others, the now-24-year-old got himself brothers-in-arms who not only eased his transition to a different sport, but also energized his transplant into a new country, new culture, and new college.
“Kaming seniors nung time na yun, close sa rookies namin (us seniors were close to our rookies then) and I think that was one of the reasons why we won three championships,” detailed Nieto, ever well-spoken. “We welcomed every player and of course, si Ange, hindi madali mahiwalay sa family (it’s not easy to be away from family).
“Especially since he didn’t know how to speak Tagalog, and even English at first. So we stayed with Ange all the time not only during practices and games, but also outside the court to show that we have his back all the time.”
Through his fellow Blue Eagles, Kouame got a second family. Through the Ateneo community, in general, he got a third family. We could even say that through the UAAP, he got a fourth family. And thanks to those, he began to understand just what it means to be Filipino.
“First of all, pagiging mapagkumbaba yung nakuha niyang Filipino trait in the years na nandito siya kasi kahit ‘Ange Kouame’ na siya, hindi niya nakakalimutan yung mga una niyang nakasama, yung mga taong tumulong sa kanya para marating niya ang mga pangarap niya (being humble is the Filipino trait he got since he’s been here. Even if he’s already ‘Ange Kouame,’ he hasn’t forgotten the people who were there for him when he first got here, who helped him get to where he is today),” expounded Nieto.
“Together with that, he also imbibed yung servanthood na culture namin sa team (our culture of servitude), which calls on us to think what’s best for our team, what’s best for our family always.”
Family has always been one of the defining — if not the defining — word for Filipinos. Anything and everything revolves around family, generally. In basketball, more often than not, it’s endless love for family that becomes both fuel and fire for aspirants. Someday, I’ll make it to the PBA. And in the process, someday, I’ll make a better life for myself and my family.
Kouame has two more season to play for Ateneo. Going pro isn’t on the horizon — yet. Still, through his hard work, he has made quite the comfortable life for himself here in the Philippines. And sooner than later, he hopes to share that with his family — his biological family, that is.
“Now, I’m trying to be more of a family man. I should provide for my family at the end of the day, so it’d be a good thing if I have them around,” he explained. “It’s kinda sad when after games, you feel you’re by yourself. So that’s really been our plan, for my mom to move here and stay here. She’ll be retiring soon and I want her to retire here.”
Indeed, that’d be a sound solution to his primary longing and lacking. With the person who brought him to this world brought to the Philippines, he’d be able to celebrate with family and cherish his family. Most of all, he’d just be with family. Through all the ups and downs, they’d be together. In that light, could he be more Filipino?
“Mom went here in 2018, but since then, she only watches my games on YouTube. Well, actually, just highlights and stuff,” he recalled, as the UAAP isn’t readily available abroad. “At the end of the day, she’s my biggest supporter and my biggest hater at the same time. For me, I got my motivation from her, I got my inspiration from her. So since I wanna stay based here in the Philippines, I hope she can stay with me too.”
To be clear, Kouame didn’t come to these realizations just because he missed them as they were separated by 13,600 km and 17 hours of travel time by plane. Way before he flew to Manila and it became his adopted home, he already had his mom, three brothers, two sisters and late father in his heart, where they remain and will remain.
“My little sister also wants to study abroad. Of course, the Philippines is an option,” he stated. “We’re trying to make it happen. I think that’s my responsibility also. It’d be cool to have my sister here as well.”
He was born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire. It was by law that he was recognized as Filipino. Of course, having him as an official kababayan, having him get a good education in one of the Philippines’ top schools, and having him as option for Gilas is great. What’d be greater, though, is if he could do all that while having his family by his side.
That’s the dream for Filipinos, after all. And what is Ange Kouame, if not Filipino?
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