By DYLAN BUTLER
When the lights were the brightest, Chris Ortiz was at his best, helping lead Christ the King to a second consecutive CHSAA Class AA intersectional basketball title and a trip to the New York state Federation final.
But when the season ended, the phone calls from Division I schools ceased. That is, except for Rob Senderoff from Kent State, who Ortiz said was in contact “twice a week.”
“It was real hard,” Ortiz said. “I feel like I helped set the tone for my team in the playoffs and a lot of schools were there watching. I just use that as motivation.”
On Sunday, the 6-foot-8 senior forward verbally committed to Kent State for the 2012 season after spending a postgraduate year at South Kent in Connecticut.
“It feels great,” Ortiz said. “I feel like a lot of pressure is off my back and I can really focus on getting better, getting my body right and my grades better and it will put me in a better position for next year.”
Ortiz said Senderoff’s persistence, first as the assistant and then when he replaced Geno Ford as head coach, is what sold him on the Mid-American Conference school.
“They’ve been around the whole school year,” Ortiz said. “The one thing that I liked about it is that Rob Senderoff recruited me as the assistant coach so now I feel like he already likes me and he was going to try and push for me to play as the assistant. But now as the head coach, he’s the one who makes the call. I feel like I have a chance that he’ll really work with me to get better as a player and in the classroom.”
Ortiz said he went to Akron, Ohio, on an official visit June 7 and loved what he saw.
“I thought the campus was beautiful,” he said. “It’s big, the gym was close. Akron is not like New York, but you still get that city feel.”
While he just completed his senior season, Ortiz, a lean and long force inside who has the ability to shoot from three-point range, only played one season of varsity ball. Following his sophomore year at Christ the King, Ortiz transferred to Lincoln, but was ruled ineligible and never played for the Railsplitters. He returned to CK to play his senior year and averaged 10.2 points per game and emerged as one of the most feared shot-blockers in the city, earning third team All-Queens honors by the New York Post.
With limited varsity experience, it’s clear Ortiz’s best days are ahead of him. He said Senderoff was the only coach seemingly willing to judge him on his future rather than his present.
“There’s no question I’m going to get better,” Ortiz said. “I’m in the weight room and the court and all that’s going to fall into place. But Kent State paid the attention to me that I don’t think any of these other schools did. A good coach can see potential and I feel like that’s the best part of my game. Kent State showed that they cared about my potential and not the type of player I am right now.”
Ortiz said he’s going to use his year at South Kent to improve on the court and in the classroom and even though other schools could show interest late, the Brooklyn native is steadfast in his commitment to Kent State.
“It’s not like other schools haven’t seen me play,” Ortiz said. “I just feel like that’s what’s right for me and my family right now. I feel that’s what is best for me. Anything can happen between now and November, but that’s where my heart is at right now.”