BURIED deep in the Barangay Ginebra rotation during the first half of the Philippine Cup, Mike Cortez savored a renaissance in his pro basketball career when he got traded to the Air21 Express.
More than a month later, Cortez is convinced more than ever that he still has what it takes to shine at a highest level following his near triple-double performance in Air21’s 100-105 quarterfinals loss to top seed Talk ‘N Tex on Friday night at the Big Dome.
Ironically, Cortez came out with his best-ever performance ever in an Air21 uniform in a game that turned out to be the Express' last for the conference, finishing with 21 points, a career-best 18 assists and nine rebounds in 40 minutes while standing at the head of a brave stand against top seed Talk 'N Text.
“I’ve never doubted myself or what I can do … I just laid it on the line especially in a game like this where we lose, we go home. Sayang lang,” said Cortez, after the game, where the Express were actually 25 seconds away from sending the playoff series into a rubber match until Ranidel de Ocampo broke their hearts with a shot-clock beating three-pointer.
The 2003 top overall rookie pick said he’s convinced the one-game quarterfinals gave the Express the playoff experience they need to compete well come the Commissioner’s Cup early next year.
Air21 coach Franz Pumaren said he had no doubts that Cortez still has what it takes to play against Talk ‘N Text’s top playmaker Jimmy Alapag or even the ex-La Salle point guard’s former Barangay Ginebra teammate LA Tenorio.
“I never doubted or lost faith in him. He was one rebound away from a triple-double. In fact, if he didn’t get into foul trouble, I wouldn’t pull him out. You can see what he’s capable of doing,” said Pumaren.
Meantime, with the early Christmas break for the Express, Cortez said he’s also happy since he’d finally be reunited with his parents in Carson, California.
“I haven’t been home in about 10 years, so it’s kind of exciting for me to meet my parents in Carson. I’ll be seeing them for the first time in 10 years … I was in the United States just right before the draft of January 2003,” said Cortez.