NCAA basketball

Not just a Jacob Cortez team: San Beda coach highlights silent workers after title win

JR Isaga

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Not just a Jacob Cortez team: San Beda coach highlights silent workers after title win

SUPPORTING. San Beda forward James Payosing kisses his NCAA Finals MVP trophy at the conclusion of the Season 99 men's basketball tournament

GMA Sports PH

San Beda champion coach Yuri Escueta shines a deserved spotlight on supporting players like Finals MVP James Payosing and sniper Yukien Andrada, who led the way for cramping leader Jacob Cortez

MANILA, Philippines – Against all odds in the NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball tournament, San Beda displayed grit reminiscent of old title-winning Red Lions squads and earned its way to its 23rd overall title off a three-game finals conquest of the Mapua Cardinals.

Throughout its superb underdog run, highlighted by an unprecedented eight-game winning streak all while being on the brink of early elimination, scrappy San Beda leaned on the leadership of breakout star guard Jacob Cortez, who led the Red Lions in scoring at the end of the elimination round.

But when it really mattered most in the winner-take-all finals Game 3 on Sunday, December 17, it was Cortez’s supporting cast who took the reins in the final rally, just as the main man himself was down with untimely cramps.

Head coach Yuri Escueta, now also a collegiate champion coach after copping gold once as a player for the UAAP’s Ateneo Blue Eagles, made sure to specifically highlight this phenomenon when the dust settled at the jampacked Araneta Coliseum.

“I know you guys love Jacob Cortez, right? But guys, this is basketball. That’s how we built this. We built this around 15 players in the lineup. We built this around 18 guys in practices, and we teach everyone how to play basketball,” he said in the champions’ press conference.

As the cramping Cortez literally took a backseat in the heat of the moment, it was forward James Payosing who best rose to the occasion with an 11-point, 14-rebound double-double plus 2 steals in just 20 minutes, eventually validating his hard work with a Finals MVP win.

“No matter who got Finals MVP, everyone was going to be happy for him, whoever that is,” Escueta continued. “But I think [James] is deserving also. He stepped up in the fourth quarter when some of the guys were done because of cramps.”

Right alongside him was stretch forward Yukien Andrada, who broke Mapua’s defenses with an 18-point second-half explosion after scoring just 2 in the first.

That kind of support for one another, Escueta said, is why San Beda is once again on top of the NCAA after at one point not even being a Final Four shoo-in.

“We worked hard for this since January last year, we went through every adversity,” he continued in Filipino. “We joined the D-League, we went to Malaysia, and we kept on losing. We went to Davao and we couldn’t even beat the teams there. We went through a lot.”

“But these guys, the players, said to themselves, we have to be resilient, and they leaned on that adversity early in the season. It’s something that I think we were able to bring to this run of ours.”

Even the greatest sports programs go through some slumps, and the Red Lions are no exception. While a five-year title drought may seem like an eternity by its own lofty standards, San Beda was never given a red-carpet path back up.

Like everyone else, they scrapped and clawed to get back to where they used to be, and now the dividends have paid off once again. –

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