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Out of the Shadow

San Beda rising star Jacob Cortez is ready to make a name for himself.

WORDS by Yoyo Sarmenta

Jacob Cortez knows that he will hear the comparisons every time he steps on the court. He knows that every move he makes will be magnified. He knows that people will ask him about his dad constantly. He is aware of the giant shadow lording over his career. 

Though the second-generation basketball player from San Beda has gotten used to it by now, he knows that he’s more than just his father’s kid. 

“I wanna make my own name and stop being called the son of Mike Cortez,” he says. 

He stresses that he’s fine being mentioned in the same breath as his dad but he does find it tiring when he’s being boxed into that. 

“Nasanay na ako,” he says. “Coming into every interview alam ko na ime-mention yung dad ko. But I’m not tired of talking about it. It’s just parang nasanay na ako and I just wanna make my own name.”

“Even when I’m watching the games, yung mga replays, even my family, relatives, they’re tired… Whenever I hold the ball they’re gonna say, ‘the son of Mike Cortez’ ganun,” he added.

Jacob is entering his third season with the Red Lions. He burst into the scene when he started playing high school basketball in La Salle Green Hills before transferring to UST. He then decided to be a Red Lion for college. 

Jacob knows that as his career progresses, a lot more people will see him through the lens of his father. 

The 21-year-old is the son of three-time PBA champion Mike Cortez. The older Cortez started his career in the Philippines by playing for the De La Salle Green Archers where he won two UAAP titles. He captivated audiences with his lightning-quick moves and slick ball-handling. Drafted first overall in 2003, he went on to have a successful PBA career that lasted 16 years. The “Cool Cat” was among the country’s premier point guards. 

People have mentioned to Jacob that he moves like his dad. They say that the younger Cortez plays just as smoothly. However, Jacob thinks otherwise. His dad was quick. He, on the other hand, has a heavier build. 

Jacob is walking on a tightrope. How do you find balance following in your dad’s footsteps and carving out your own legacy? For starters, he doesn’t think about comparing his game to his old man. Instead, he acts like a sponge, absorbing all the knowledge he can from an all-time great. 

“He’s the one who I go to after a game,” he says proudly. “Like ‘nung last season after each game, he’ll text me or I’ll reach out to him.”

Jacob’s dad is back in the Philippines after an assistant coaching opportunity with MPBL team Makati OKBet Kings opened up. For the majority of his college career, his dad has been in the United States with his mom Joy and younger brother Mikey, watching from afar, but they’ve always kept in contact. Now that Mike is back in the country, the two have been catching up and giving face-to-face advice. 

“If we practice side-steps, and then in the game I’m doing spins or whatever, he’ll just say like ‘Why don’t you just do what we practiced?’” Jacob says. “Because he knows my strengths and what I’m good at. He knows what I should do.”

Jacob has been living alone since going to San Beda while his family is abroad. Instead of trying his luck in the States, he decided to stay here and play college ball. He eventually wants to turn pro, whether in the PBA or overseas. 

Jacob is learning firsthand what it takes to be a great player but he is very comfortable in his own skin. As a combo guard, he can either create on his own or make plays for his teammates. The team can also design plays just for him. After two quiet seasons with San Beda, he’s ready to make a bigger impact for the Red Lions.  

“After two seasons, I’ve become more mature. Especially now, I’m getting used to the system of Coach Yuri (Escueta) and my role is more clear now compared to last season,” says Cortez as the Red Lions missed the NCAA Finals the past two years and have gone through a coaching change. “I think this season will be better. For me, I’ll play a bigger part. Coach told me that bigger roles come with bigger responsibilities [for my] teammates.”

Jacob has shown growth in his game. In the recent AsiaBasket International Tournament held in Malaysia, he was named to the competition’s first team after averaging 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.8 steals. 

Getting an individual award wasn’t as satisfying as playing for the championship, which the Red Lions lost against the Kuala Lumpur Aseel. For Jacob, he wouldn’t mind earning an individual award in the future, but that isn’t his priority. 

And even though he is one of the rising standouts in the NCAA and Philippine basketball, he is always taken aback whenever people label him a star. When he was even announced as the “King Lion” during one of the school’s intramurals, he was caught off guard. 

“Nakakagulat kasi I’ve never thought na parang King Lion ako ganun,” he says. “But yun nga sabi ko di ko na lang iniisip. But okay naman sakin – it’s just the thought of it na parang ‘whoa’ dati wala lang.”

It just so happens that Jacob’s idol aside from his dad is former King Lion, Robert Bolick, who led San Beda to three NCAA titles. Bolick even recently visited a Red Lions practice where he gave pointers on leading and setting an example. 

Not that Jacob is not comfortable being called the main guy or being a King Lion, but he wants to be known as a winner. 

“I think I would wanna be a champion,” he says. “I’d rather be called a champion before anything else.”

Even though there’s fatigue in constantly being called “Mike Cortez’s son” Jacob also finds comfort and familiarity that he’s being compared to one of the best college guards ever. Likewise, he doesn’t pay too much attention to the hype of his potential stardom. He welcomes all the criticisms and expectations. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a valuable player. Even though I’m not scoring, I’m still giving out assists, rebounding, and defending. I just wanna be valuable,” he says about what he wants his career to look like. “I don’t want to give my coach a reason to take me out of the game. Just to be probably the most valuable.”

Jacob is following his dad’s footsteps but walking at his own pace. He’s ready to make a name for himself and all the pressure that it entails. When all is said and done, he wants to be known as Jacob Cortez. 

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