PLAYING in a new environment under his former college coach may just be the spark needed to bring back the self-confidence of Mike Cortez.
The former top rookie pick makes his debut for Air21 Friday night when the Express tangle with Barako Bull Energy Cola in the curtain-raiser of a PBA Philippine Cup doubleheader at the Astrodome.
Cortez was dealt to Air21 on Tuesday night in a startling trade that saw him given away by Barangay Ginebra in exchange for rookie big man Yousef Taha, the 11th pick overall in the last draft.
At Ginebra, Cortez has rarely been used since LA Tenorio arrived at the start of the season in a separate offseason trade. The limited playing time, the former De La Salle start guard admitted, caused him to lose a little bit of his confidence.
“My confidence is a bit down now. But give me a couple of games, I'll be back,” said the player dubbed `Cool Cat’ in an interview with PTV’s Snow Badua.
But at Air21, Cortez is reunited with college coach Franz Pumaren, with whom he won two UAAP men’s basketball championships in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
The presence of Cortez is likely to give a lift to the Express’ playoff bid that is currently mired in the lower half of the standings at 2-5 and tied with Ginebra for the second worst record in the tournament.
The Express though, are coming off a big 97-76 rout of Petron last week.
This time, they will be up against a Barako Bull side that just ended a three-game losing streak following a thrilling 95-94 win over Globalport.
The Energy Cola (3-5) likewise edged Express, 90-87, in a tightly-fought encounter last October 3.