UST HS standout Jacob Cortez will soon make a return to the NCAA, and in doing so, become the latest piece to the puzzle San Beda is trying to recomplete in NCAA Season 96.
Cortez, son of former PBA top overall pick Mike, is a big guard who could potentially fill the void left by Evan Nelle, the Red Lions' ex-primary playmaker who transferred to La Salle last year.
Explaining his decision, the next generation Cortez said San Beda, champions in 11 out of the last 14 NCAA seasons, provides the best opportunity for his young career.
"I chose San Beda because they are a very successful team and they have many players that have gone pro," the 5-foot-11 guard told ESPN5. "I think that me being in San Beda will help my confidence and skill as my goal is to become a professional."
San Beda's most recent crop of professionals include NorthPort Batang Pier Robert Bolick and Clint Doliguez, Rain or Shine Elasto Painter Javee Mocon, and NLEX Road Warriors Calvin Oftana and AC Soberano.
The 18-year-old played for La Salle Green Hills in the NCAA Juniors before transferring to the UAAP Juniors and UST HS where he teamed up with Bismarck Lina. He was the second-leading scorer for the Tiger Cubs, putting up averages of 15.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in his lone season in España.
Now, Cortez is expected to become a key cog in the Red Lions' rebuild after having lost Nelle, Season 95 MVP Oftana, foreign student-athletes Donald Tankoua and Anaud Noah, Kemark Carino, Doliguez, and Soberano.
At the same time, San Beda is hoping to match the retooling of archrival Letran, which bested them in the Season 95 Finals and then secured the transfers of former UST contributors Rhenz Abando, Brent Paraiso, and Ira Bataller as well as high school recruits Jeff Mailim and Jimly Lantaya (NU), CJ Saure (Letran), Rafael Go (Chiang Kai Shek), and Yuki Kawamura (Perpetual).
Only swingman James Canlas remains from San Beda's Finals core, but together with Cortez, another Fil-Canadian in Brendon Ocampo as well as NCAA Juniors stars Rhayyan Amsali, Justine Sanchez, Yukien Andrada, and Tony Ynot will now also call Mendiola home.
Great things are expected for Amsali, Sanchez, Andrada, and Ynot, in particular, as they were the driving force behind San Beda HS's climb back to the mountaintop. They - alongside Canlas, Cortez, and Ocampo - will form a brand new youthful core that will seek to do the same in the Seniors division.
"Jacob has great potential," remarked team manager Jude Roque of their newest recruit. "Not only is he very skilled. He loves to compete and he's confident of his abilities."
For his part, Cortez vowed to return the Red Lions' faith in him and his abilities.
"I promise to give my best to bring back the championship and to keep San Beda as one of the top basketball collegiate teams in the country," he expressed.