FOR one crucial stretch during the Globalport-Barangay Ginebra game on Sunday night, Franz Pumaren relived a blast from the past and called on an old reliable in an attempt to thwart a last-ditch rally being mounted by the never-say-die Kings.
And so entered the ‘Cool Cat.’
Just like old times, Mike Cortez delivered when counted upon by his former college coach, snaring a crucial offensive rebound off big man Japeth Aguilar, and then nailing the two corresponding free throws that gave the Batang Pier a safe seven-point cushion on the way to a 91-84 win in the PBA Philippine Cup.
Cortez, 36, finished with six points and eight rebounds in a solid 15-minute stint where he provided stability to the young but explosive Globalport backcourt of Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle.
Situation such as this are the very reason, according to Pumaren, why he and his coaching staff decided to gamble on veteran players like Josh Urbiztondo and Cortez, his former star player at La Salle with whom he won two UAAP men’s basketball championship in 2000 and 2001.
Pumare tapped Cortez to replace Anthony Semerad in the final two minutes after the Fil-Australian wingman committed an error off an inbound pass by Romeo just moments following Sol Mercado’s three-pointer moved Ginebra to within 87-82.
“I think we needed a veteran inside, and Mike made me look good,” said Pumaren of the Fil-Am guard from San Jose, California. He scored, got the offensive rebound and made the free throws.
Cortez is not so much into throwbacks, but he definitely welcomes this latest reunion with Pumaren following their De La Salle days, and later, a brief stint together at Air21 Express.
He admitted taking some time familiarizing himself again with Pumaren’s system, but settled down immediately once he finally got used to it again.
“Nung una medyo blurry. I forgot a little bit of it, but once I see it again, pumasok na ulit sa utak ko,” said the No.1 overall pick in the 2003 PBA rookie draft.
While Pumaren did a little bit of tweaking here and there, Cortez said basically the system being run by the former PBA player remains the same, with emphasis on playing team defense.
“It’s pretty much the same. I think we just need to get used to being with each other, because we may have eight or nine new guys on the team,” Cortez acknowledged. “We all have to be on the same page and get that chemistry especially on defense.”
Globalport is tied for the league lead with Rain or Shine at 3-1, but Cortez doesn’t want to hold any expectations at the moment other than making the playoffs.
Perhaps even better, another semifinal stint in the all-Filipino conference just like what the Batang Pier did last season.
“I’m getting older. Me, Mick Pennisi, we guys really want to get back in the semis or the playoffs,” said Cortez, acquired by Globalport in a trade with Blackwater for Ronald Pascual during the Governors Cup.
And the ‘Cool Cat’ knows he and the rest of the Globalport bench will have to play a crucial role to achieve that modest goal.
“Stanley and Terrence cannot carry this team to the next level I think, so the other guys just need to fit in and understand that we have to play, especially defense every night.,” he stressed.