From Mike to Jacob: Redefining the Cortez Legacy at DLSU

Jacob Cortez’s eyes moved to the left, then to his right, then above him, where the windows atop the towering Henry Sy Building at the heart of De La Salle University illuminated the morning sun.

The stoic display on his face looked like it seamlessly passed down from one generation of game-face assassin to the next. His gaze fixated on surroundings that felt foreign but also familiar. Students on their way to different colleges of the 5.4-hectare campus stopped in their tracks to peek for an extra second or two, wondering if perhaps the rumors were true.

Huy, si Cortez na ba yan?”

Diba La Salle na daw siya?”

Once upon a time on these hallowed grounds, that name referred to somebody else. Someone who didn’t sport the latest trends in hairstyle like young Jacob did in this very instance, but made up for it with superior athletic chops, on-court swagger, and nationwide basketball renown.

On this occasion, Jacob was the center of attention.

A little smirk unfurled on his face. It was gone just as quickly as it emerged. He shook his head, almost in disbelief. There was an astonishment to this moment that not even his firm exterior could mask any longer. Not here. Not where the past and future collide.

“Jacob Cortez, you are now a De La Salle Green Archer,” he was reminded.

He glanced sideways, that little smirk forming on the corner of his mouth. It had the mischief of alpha confidence. And in a quick instant, one that someone could easily miss if they veered at the wrong time, he gently murmured:

“It’s crazy.”

It was a laid-back morning when Jacob and his dad, the legendary Mike Cortez, had their visit of the 122-year-old educational institution. Almost 22 years have passed since The Cool Cat last roamed the green-and-white halls as a superstar. Now it’s his son’s turn to experience it for the first time as – maybe – the next King Archer.

Mike’s feats are symbolized by two of the championship banners hanging on the ninth floor of the Enrique Razon Sports Complex, the training ground of the Green Archers. These banners remind each batch what they play for. Titles are the standard of wearing La Salle across one’s chest. Accomplishing anything short of that can be regarded as a disappointment.

“It’s new,” Jacob said, glancing around his surroundings again.

Behind him stands the historical Archer statue at the Chess Plaza, sculpted by the award-winning Ed Castrillo in 1985 to portray La Sallian excellence.

To his left is the Yuchengco Lobby. The site where heart-to-heart conversations have taken place for decades.

To his right is the St. Joseph Walk, which some might call the “DLSU Catwalk,” This is where La Sallians flaunt stylish trends, romantics attempt quick glances at campus crushes, and benches are designed for momentous university activities. Of course, it’s also a major connecting hub to get to different classrooms, especially when one only has 10 minutes in between classes from one side of the university to the other.

“It’s big,” Jacob described his new stomping grounds. “There are a lot of students. Just looking at the different buildings, there’s a lot of history there. My dad told me stories about campus before. It’s crazy.”

“It feels good,” Mike chuckled. “Being back on campus now, so much has changed, but a lot of it has stayed the same. It’s a legacy for our family and for La Salle.”

When junior makes his UAAP collegiate debut in UAAP Season 88 (2025), it won’t be the first time he’s played for these colors.

A younger and less-prominent Jacob suited up for La Salle Greenhills before ultimately making his way to UST’s high school program. Far from establishing himself as a top-tier collegiate recruit, he honed his basketball skills in the United States during the pandemic. San Beda then gave him an opportunity to showcase those newfound abilities.

He displayed limited potential in his first season as a backup, portrayed the signs of stardom in the offseason that followed, and achieved immortality, albeit shortly, as a King Lion by winning an NCAA championship last December. San Beda defeated Lyceum twice in the Final Four, then survived a challenging 3-game Finals against Mapua spearheaded by one of the top collegiate basketball point guards today.

“When he first started with San Beda, commentators and fans [called] him Mike Cortez’s son,” Mike reminisced, but without spite in his tone. “I told him not to listen to that and do his own thing, build his legacy. Slowly, he did that.”

Jacob’s recent move to DLSU wasn’t the first courtship between both sides. He nearly transferred before last NCAA season after playing remarkably in the PBA D-League, as the Archers beat the Red Lions in the finals. Jacob could have been UAAP-eligible by Season 87, steering a title defense campaign side-by-side with the likes of Kevin Quiambao and Michael Phillips.

Life had him go through alternating roads before coming home. A legitimate argument can be made it was for the best.

“Thanks to San Beda for giving him the platform to do that and to the NCAA for letting him do that. Now he shifts over to the UAAP, so it’s a bigger responsibility and challenges for him,” said Mike.

Jacob emphasized that coming to La Salle was his “own decision.” He isn’t oblivious to the realities of his new world. Foreign student-athletes will make scoring in the paint feel dismaying. Rivals will use his pedigree as motivation to make a name for themselves. He comes in with Kean Baclaan as veteran lead guards, tasked with playmaking the Archers to either a three-peat or reclamation mission.

And here’s the underlying question, fair or not for the kid: can he live up to pop’s legacy?

Can he hang his banners for future Archers to gaze upon? Can he carry the weight of the world on his shoulders and live up to unfair expectations when glory is on the line?

Can he be, well, king?

“It’s all mental for me,” Jacob proclaimed. “Just to focus on the now and not get pressure in my head. I’ve been doing that my whole life. Hopefully that translates to another championship.”

Jacob envisions being “very involved” with how La Salle head coach Topex Robinson will utilize him, and that getting along with the other Archers – a few of them he played with and against growing up – won’t be daunting.

He used Evan Nelle and Mark Nonoy’s title-winning backcourt combination as an example of why a one-two punch of him and Baclaan can achieve similar eminence. Mike thinks adjusting to the size and physicality of UAAP defenders will be critical to his success. Jacob acknowledges that La Salle is “welcoming me with open arms.” He hopes to repay that trust with a title, but his personal ambition goes far beyond tangible hardware.

“I just want to be a good influence to all those who want to be in my spot right now. Anything is possible. At the end of the day, my goal is to be a good role model to all basketball players.”

Which image of his dad in green-and-white does Jacob know the most?

“There’s one he shows me all the time,” the second-generation talent replied, laughing. “That’s the fastbreak dunk because I haven’t done that yet.”

Jacob doesn’t have his dad’s athletic peak, which makes a repeat of the iconic dunk that has been replayed thousands of times probably difficult to replicate.

But as far as the ultimate success for De La Salle, which at one point felt more like a dream than reality, that is now well within reach.

“The preparation that he goes through, no matter where he’s playing – any school, any league – the preparation is going to show,” Mike stated. “I think he’ll step up to the plate. He’s going to do a good job.”

If given the choice, would Jacob continue to wear number 2, as he did in San Beda, or represent the same jersey number his father did more than two decades ago?

Cortez looked down for a second, contemplating the query. When it seemed like a concrete answer was uncertain, he suddenly smirked again, looked up, and declared it would be the former.

He might be Mike Cortez’s son, but Jacob Cortez is the author of his legacy.

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