Ben Ortiz plays one sport at Morris Community High School, but it occupies as much time for him as three sports might for some of his peers.
Ortiz will put the product of all of his work on display for MCHS fans for one final season, which begins Tuesday when the Redskins play St. Bede at the Coal City Thanksgiving Tournament. Days before the opener, Ortiz shared his thoughts with the Morris Daily Herald.
Q. The basketball season is just about to start for most players. Does it ever end for you? Do you take a break from the game?
A. No, not really. For a couple weeks in the middle of the summer, I took it a bit easier, but definitely not off. I'm always working to get better and trying to find a game to play in. That's just really how much I love the game of basketball; I have been playing since I can remember.
Q. How does the graduation of Jake Olson change your responsibilities on both offense and defense?
A. Jake was our leading scorer, and definitely was a big presence down low for our defense and offense. His leaving puts more pressure on myself and our other post players as well as everyone else to step up and play bigger than they are, especially being short handed right now.
Q. You didn't lead the team in scoring in a game until Jan. 27 last season. You did it three more times after that. Is that coincidence, or evidence that your role grew late in the year?
A. I think last year I didn't really come out of my shell until about halfway through the year. I started playing with more confidence and after I had a few games like that, I knew what was possible, so it really opened the doors for me.
Q. What do you do basketball-wise apart from what you do with the Redskins?
A. For the past summers since sixth grade, I have played on travel teams in the summer. Up until the summer going into junior year, I played with the Illinois Raptors. After that, I played with the Illinois Ambush, coached by Garrett Callahan. Garrett also worked 1-on-1 with me and really helped me develop my game.
Aside from organized travel ball, I play with my dad (Tim) and his friends in their pickup games a couple days a week. Playing with older, experienced guys definitely helped me as well with things like basketball IQ, decision making and strategy.
Q. Is there anybody you try to emulate your game after, and if so, what parts of their game do you try to incorporate into yours?
A. Well, apart from my dad, who has been teaching me the game since I could walk, there a few other famous players I admire. First being Michael Jordan. I remember watching their championship runs with my dad, and I have always looked up to him, and I think it's pretty obvious to see why.
Second is Derrick Rose. He makes incredibly quick and beautiful moves that are so entertaining to watch. But what I really admire about him is his will to win, and his humility. He will do anything for his team, and he never feels the need to boast or shout in the other team's face. He always lets his play do the talking. I really like that about him.
But as far as inspiration goes, my late friend Kyale Brown, who loved the game as much as I do, will always be a huge inspiration in my mind. I'm wearing his initials on my shoes this year to remind me who I'm playing for.
Q. Has the buzz around the school about basketball been less than normal due to the football team's success?
A. A little bit, I think, which is expected. Morris is a football town, so I, along with everyone else in the basketball program, is used to being put second behind them, especially with a deep playoff run. They're some of my best friends, so I'm excited for them to be where they are now, but people being 'less excited' doesn't really affect me. Once the games start, they'll see what we've got here, and they'll be just as excited as ever.
Q. Morris has started in the Coal City tournament for a couple of years now. Do you enjoy the chance to play against some other local schools right off the bat?
A. Yeah, I really enjoy the C.C. tourney. I actually played on the Ambush with a few guys from St. Bede and Coal City, so that's one reason I personally enjoy it. But it's close, good quality games to get the season going. And we usually don't get the chance again to play those teams, so that's a plus.
Q. St. Bede has won the Coal City tournament two years in a row. What must happen for Morris to unseat them?
A. Well, as expected, we will be shorthanded. But we knew that ahead of time, so there will be no excuses to be made. It comes down to our preparation, execution and hustle. I feel that we have prepared pretty well so far, so we just have to leave it up to ourselves to execute our sets and, most of all, hustle. Some teams may be more talented than you, but there is no reason to ever be out hustled. It's just a matter of heart and will to win, and I believe we have that.
Q. The other scheduled tournament for Morris this season is the Plano Christmas Classic. What is playing in that event like?
A. The Plano tournament is always fun. It's during Christmas break, so it's just all basketball. There's a lot of good competition from all around. The atmosphere is great, and it provides to see some teams we usually wouldn't see. The tournament directors really do a good job putting that together.
Q. Are there any other games or opponents on the schedule you're looking forward to facing?
A. Kaneland and Yorkville. I think those are pretty obvious to everyone, as they're our school-wide rivals. Yorkville has always provided some intense games, so we look forward to those every year. I have been playing against some of those guys for a very long time, so it will be pretty fun.
And at the end of our schedule, we have Kaneland on senior night, which should be great. Kaneland has become a bigger school rival over the years, so to have them on our senior night, the last game I will ever play on that floor, well it will be fun. I'm also seeking some revenge for beating my friends on the football team this year, so that'll be some added motivation.