A ball of energy as big as Raven Cortez cannot possibly be safe. I first got a look at the 6’7” Junior Archer at the SLAM Rising Stars Combine, and though he wasn’t the biggest or the most hyped prospect (at least as long as Kai Sotto’s in the same room), his personality electrified the gym.
There was an infectious mix of excitement and camaraderie that charged the air that afternoon, and Raven was at the heart of it. In between drills and photoshoots, he was never alone nor without a smile. Bursts of laughter would erupt from him and fellow behemoths, Kai, Carl Tamayo, and Geo Chiu. He would challenge the guards to shootouts from deep, casually hoisting treys in between playful taunts. Splash.
Cortez forms part of an exciting new era of local basketball on the horizon. Between him, Tamayo, and Sotto, there’s real potential there to fast forward the Filipino game into the future, with Raven in particular being built in the unicorn mold so heavily sought after in modern hoops.
“‘Di ko naman nafe-feel ang pressure. Basta bigay ko lang ang lahat ko every game tsaka work hard palagi. Ganoon lang, mindset,” said Cortez. The way he carries himself, it’s hard not to believe him.
The prospect of Raven’s future dominance is built on the fact that guys his size simply aren’t meant to move the way he does. There’s a force to his gangly frame. He bounds up and down the court with speed and control. He’s got the juice to jump passing lanes and deny shots at the rim. He’s got the footwork and length to snag rebounds and keep craftier opponents at bay. With these tools and his instincts, it’s no wonder that Raven is a defensive stud, maybe the best natural stopper in his position.
His offensive game is a slightly different story. Up to this point in his career, he’s gotten by without a potent back-to-the-basket game, instead relying on his physique to feast on lobs, putbacks, and rim-runs. But instead of being groomed in the ways of a traditional big man, it looks like he prefers to meet the game where it’s headed. “Siyempre yung big man sa ngayon, evolving na rin. Nasa labas na sila, tumitira. I’m improving my shooting. Pag sa worlds, naglalaro rin ako sa 4 kaya kailangan sa labas talaga,” he said.
It’s nuggets like this that give us a glimpse into the fire underneath his fun-loving exterior. Coming off an MCL injury that sidelined him for parts of last season, Cortez knows he has to make the most of his time on the hardwood with the Junior Archers.
La Salle has struggled since their last UAAP Juniors championship in 2008, but with Raven on deck for the next two years, they have a true talisman to rally around. “Hindi na kami masyadong rebuilding team this year. Gagawin namin ang lahat para maka-Final Four,” said Cortez.
For all his jokes and antics, there’s nothing to take lightly about him between the lines. “Nabasa ko yung sinabi ni Russell Westbrook na off the court, friends lang, pero on the court bola lang ang kaibigan niya. Ganoon din ako,” he remarked with a smirk.
A ball of energy as big as Raven Cortez cannot possibly be safe. If you ever share the floor with him, just hope your jerseys are the same color.
The SLAM Rising Stars Classic will be held on March 31, 7PM to 9PM, at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong. The game will be aired on ABS-CBN Sports via livestream.