When people talk about “The Future of Philippine Basketball” within the UAAP, there is one name that’s immediately the center of discussions: Kai Sotto. It’s easy to see why he’s the first name on everyone’s mind.
Kai’s averaging a whopping 4.7 blocks per game along with his 12.6 points and 12.3 rebounds in Season 80. But in these discussions, it’s not those numbers which matter to these fans. The number one thing in their minds is Kai’s height and age. He’s seven-feet tall at just 15 years of age. Never mind that he moves with so much fluidity and grace for a kid his size and age, or he’s already has a developing skill set that screams unicorn. What matters is how tall and young he is, because those two things are already astounding enough for the Filipino basketball fan.
It’s a shame because there’s also one other player in the UAAP Juniors Division with height at such a young age, just like Kai. He’s also has the potential to be the same type of player Kai is shaping out to be.
Kai is awesome. But deserving of as much love as him is Raven Cortez of the De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers.
Normally, bigs of Raven’s size just stay inside the rim, move minimally and just try to block shots that come their way. It makes sense, given the advantage they have in terms of height. With Raven, normally is not an option, as he is a special prospect in his own right. Not only will he protect the rim (is currently averaging 3.7 blocks per game in the UAAP season), but he’ll also disrupt passing lanes with his go-go gadget arms while defending pick and rolls with ease because of how uniquely quick his feet are for his size.
Raven has had flashes of defensive dominance throughout the season, but his excellence was magnified versus the UE Junior Warriors in the second round of this UAAP season. He may not be as offensively gifted as partner RC Calimag, but on the defensive end, he’s arguably the second best in that department in the league. Versus the Junior Warriors, he came up with 13 points, 14 rebounds and nine BLOCKS, the most – yes, even more than Kai – this season.
In that one game, everyone witnessed the potential of Raven Cortez. He showcased his long arms and quick feet. He also showed how natural it is for him to swivel his head time and time again while moving to different parts of the half court to block shots. The Junior Warriors put up a spirited run in that game, but Cortez blocked it to oblivion.
Slowly but surely, fans were starting to discuss the potential that Raven has. But for Zobel head coach Boris Aldeguer, this is something that doesn’t surprise him. He mentioned that he knows Raven is capable of big games. But he also made sure to say that his young big man is still a work in progress despite the production he’s been putting up over the course of the season (12.2 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game). “His potential is unlimited,” said Aldeguer.
It’s important to note Coach Boris is someone who has handled top-notch recruits before. During the early part of the decade, he coached Arnold Van Opstal, who was projected by many as someone who could make it to the Gilas Pilipinas roster in the future. A few years ago, Coach Boris had the responsibility of handling spit fire and former SLAM Rising Stars MVP Aljun Melecio.
However, Coach Boris has mentioned Raven is a lot different compared to Aljun or Arnold. The similarity between Arnold and Raven is how tall they both are (both of them stand at 6’7”). However, Coach Boris mentions, “AVO was a late bloomer. I had him for one and a half years. For Aljun, I had him under my watch for all 4 years.”
Aljun and Raven are different in physique and style. Aljun may be a proud member of the Minions, unlike Raven’s who’s probably already received offers to join the Sampayan Brigade. However, they do share one thing with each other. This is year one of Raven with Coach Boris. He still has three years left to be developed under the champion coach.
Right now, Raven is still a raw prospect despite his monster production. That in itself is the beauty with this young prospect. He’s undeveloped right now, but he has the capability of learning so much more skills in the future.
His raw talent gives him the luxury to learn so much more skills beyond what is conventional. Raven is 6’7”, but when he runs from court to court he doesn’t look like a lumbering big slogging through the court. Raven runs like a gazelle who’s ready to run the length of the court just to block your shots. The unfair thing is how effortlessly it looks for him to do these things.
Other than how fast he runs, he also has a unique fluidity with how he moves. It’s smooth and natural for him to be a help defender coming from the weak side to block your shot. Along with his fluid movements is his length which he already knows how to use for the most part. The result is a prospect who’s already emerged as one of the premier defenders in High School basketball.
It’s on the offensive end where most of the work needs to be done, especially with his shooting and dribbling skills. A lot of his baskets come off offensive rebounds, or lobs off pick and roll situations when the need arises. Raven’s not the kind of guy a team can dump the ball into to create something when needed. He needs to improve on his scoring skills in the post to be dangerous on the offensive end.
But Raven shouldn’t also be limited to being a big man. Raven has the talent to be to be a great player in the wings as well. He can project to be a player in the mold of Gabe Norwood, someone who can handle the ball from coast to coast, is capable of creating plays for others while being an absolute pterodactyl on the defensive end. It’s one heck of a dream to have, but at least Raven has a mentor who’s willing to get him to that high of a level.
Coach Boris believes, “The more weapons the player has, the harder he is to stop.” He’s right. Eventually, teams will figure out how to defend the offensive rebounding of Raven along with his penchant for catching lobs and easy baskets. Why not add a reliable mid-range jumper in there. Maybe a drive off the dribble will make things easier for everyone. These are big things to go for, but Coach Boris is willing to take it slowly with his new project.
“But Raven has to take it one step at a time,” Coach Boris answered when asked about Raven’s development. “Master the inside game first then slowly work beyond that like his perimeter game and eventually maybe beyond the arc.” Right now, Raven doesn’t know how to do those things just yet. But in time, if he puts in the work, he’ll get to that kind of level.
There’s plenty of things to be excited about when it comes to the future of Philippine Basketball. Kai’s maddening potential will remain to be the topic of discussion in dinner tables, but reserve some room for Raven Cortez as well.
He isn’t your conventional, ridiculously tall person who makes it to Future of Philippine Basketball lists in an instant. It will take some time. But Raven has incredible potential to be someone special in the future. He’s a young prospect you may not know now, but eventually, he’ll do crazy things that will capture the fancy of any Filipino basketball fan.