Favorite athlete: Damien Lillard
Favorite team: Philadelphia 76ers
Favorite memory competing in sports: Beating state runner-up Pennridge on my birthday.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Alassane Amadou tried to get his first in-game dunk against Salisbury, and took five steps from half court without a dribble.
Music on mobile device: Eminem, Joyner Lucas
Future plans: Be an athletic trainer along with being a basketball coach
Words to live by: ”Be a king in your mind, but do the work of a servant.”
One goal before turning 30: To finish college and play basketball for four years. I want to look back with no regrets.
One thing people don’t know about me: I’m pretty good at the saxophone.
By Mary Jane Souder
Michael DeCarolis uses the word fearless to describe Elias Ortiz.
It was the reason the former Penn State-Lehigh coach had his sights set on landing the Quakertown senior. When DeCarolis was hired to take over the helm of the Panthers just over a week before the start of the season, he had a good idea the kind of player he was inheriting.
“He wants the ball when it matters, he wants to guard the other team’s best player, he’s going to take a charge for you, he’s going to come up with a big bucket towards the end of the game,” DeCarolis said. “He has no fear. He plays as hard as possible.”
Oritz’s fiercely competitive nature was underscored when he was dealing with a wrist injury as his final high school basketball season was winding down.
“It was going to come to a point where – if it got hit any worse, it probably was going to break,” DeCarolis said. “At the time – if we got hot at the end of the season, we might have had a little bit of a chance to maybe sneak into the playoffs or come close.
“There were some games where that wrist was taped up like you would not believe, but he did not want to miss a game, he did not want to miss a second. He wanted to do whatever he could to help the team out, and even though he wasn’t a hundred percent, he still pretty much willed himself to be the best that he could be, which was still pretty darn good.”
Watching his final high school games from the sideline was never a consideration for Ortiz.
“My mindset was that even though it was slim, we had a chance to make playoffs and I knew that if that was to become a reality they needed me for it,” Ortiz said. “Also I have never missed a game due to injury and I was not going to end my senior year on the bench.
“I felt like it was my duty as the captain to show that even if you’re not 100 percent you can still help the team in different ways. Also to show them how to be tough and fight through any obstacle in their way.”
That desire to compete is a trait coaches covet, but listening to the Panthers’ first-year coach tell it, that’s just the tip of the iceberg where Ortiz is concerned.
“One of the things you need if you want to have a good team or a good program – you need a guy like Eli,” DeCarolis said. “Everything is now how many likes you get on (social media) – there’s a lot of me going around these days.
“Eli is one of those kids – he really doesn’t care about the me part of everything. He just wants what is best for the team. If you want to have a good program and a good culture, you need someone – especially someone who’s going to be a captain and a leader – who just does nothing but put what’s good for the program and what’s good for the team in front of what’s good for himself.”
DeCarolis has the policy of choosing one captain and allowing the team to vote for the other two.
“For me, after being there a little while and seeing the type of character he has on and off the court, it was an easy decision for me to have the coach’s pick for the captain be Eli,” DeCarolis said.
It’s a role Ortiz had assumed – albeit unofficially – as a junior.
“Last year coach (Kevin) Keeler named the three seniors the captains,” Ortiz said. “He came up to me after the practice he named them, and he told me he still wanted me to be a leader of the team.
“That helped me grow, and this year when I was officially named a captain, the transition wasn’t as tough. What I viewed my position as a captain was as a third coach. We have our head coach, our assistant coach, and I feel like I’m responsible for the team just as much as coach (DeCarolis) was.”
The Panthers took strides as the season progressed but came up short in their bid to earn a district bid.
“We never finished the puzzle, but we were putting the pieces together,” Ortiz said. “You could see growth and change, but we just never got over the hump.”
Ortiz – who grew up in Philadelphia – got his first taste of competitive sports on the gridiron.
“My dad put me in football when I was seven years old,” he said. “I loved the sport, and I played it all the way until eighth grade, and then my mom – she’s a nurse – started to get anxious because all the concussion studies are coming out.
“That’s when I started focusing more on basketball. I also played baseball, and I was okay in that, but I just never felt the love for baseball that I felt for basketball. I grew up in Philly, so I always played street ball. My first actual team I played for was in seventh grade for my middle school.”
In eighth grade, Ortiz and his family moved to Quakertown.
“It was definitely a change, especially from my middle school which was Christian-based,” he said. “The transition between cultures and lifestyles was pretty hard to accommodate. Learning to deal with adversity and people that looked at you in a different way helps you grow, so I believe it was a change that I needed, but it was tough at times.”
Ortiz looks back to his experience playing for the freshman team as a learning point in his career, although he may not have realized it at the time.
“In the beginning of the season, I liked it – we only won one game all season, but just playing with the people,” he said. “Towards the end of the season, I started shutting down. I didn’t even go to the banquet because I was so annoyed with the team.
“Later I realized I was just selfish and uncoachable my freshman year. I was immature. I feel like I’ve matured, and I try and absorb everything that is said to me.”
The Panthers might not have won a whole lot of games, but Ortiz leaves with his share of good memories – topping the list was Quakertown’s early season win over eventual state runner-up Pennridge.
“The special thing about that was it was on my birthday – I had 18 points on my 18th birthday, so it lined up perfectly,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz – as a junior - gave the Panthers one of their finest moments in last year’s Senior Night game against Upper Moreland, combining with Matt Lucas to score 13 of the team’s 15 fourth-quarter points.
“We were tied with two seconds left, and coach Keeler called a lob play for me,” Ortiz recalled. “I catch it and I get fouled.
“Of course, I have to make everything interesting so I missed the first free throw. There’s no time on the clock. Everyone is holding their breath, you could hear a pin drop. I make the second one for the win. I just felt like – now I’m part of this team.”
Ortiz was more than just part of the team, he was part of a senior class that laid the foundation for DeCarolis. Sophomore Matt Catalano gave bricks to all the seniors at the Panthers’ end-of-season banquet underscoring their contributions.
“He actually gifted all the seniors bricks with everybody’s signature saying this senior group, especially Eli, were the ones that are going to be looked at that laid the foundation for the change in the program,” DeCarolis said.
Ortiz will continue his basketball career at Cairn University, a late arrival on the recruiting scene.
“I had about 10-15 colleges on my radar - Cairn was not one of them,” Ortiz said. “In the CB South game where we lost at the buzzer, I saw coaches, but I didn’t know where they were from.
“My next game comes against Hatboro-Horsham, and I hit four threes in the game. We end up losing the game, I miss a shot at the buzzer to tie it. I’m mad at myself for missing the shot. I’m not in the best of moods. I see these two people just waiting by the doors as I’m about to exit. I didn’t think anything of it. I started to walk, and they stopped me and said, ‘Hi, I’m from Cairn University.’ They talked to me and said they liked the way I played, the hustle and the work I put in. I gave it a shot.”
Attending several games at Cairn all but sealed the deal.
“I loved the atmosphere - that’s what drew me to the college the most,” Ortiz said “They did really good this season. The regular season game I went to I had to stand because it was so packed. Granted, it’s not a huge gym, but still. Everybody supported them, there was not a dull moment in the game, even when they were down.
“I went to their championship game – they lost it 100-97, and for some reason, it hurt to see them lose. I already felt a part of team, and I decided on that day that’s where I want to go - I want to go to Cairn. I was already cool with some of the players and I felt a part of the family right there. Now I’ve been going to open gyms and practicing with them. I do not regret my decision at all.”
Ortiz will enroll in a pre-physical therapy track with his sights set on one day becoming an athletic trainer.
“I’ve been bouncing around ideas, but that’s always been number one because I’ve been banged up in my career,” he said. “I know how it feels, and I know how it is to have a trainer that knows what he’s doing.
“Jerry (Dancho) is a great trainer. I want to be the guy who everybody is cool with, who helps them out when they’re hurt and can joke around with them.”
Ortiz may be gone, but he will not be forgotten. He leaves behind an example for future players to follow.
“All the successful teams I have ever been a part of when I played or coached – we always had a player like Eli,” the Panthers’ coach said. “He might not necessarily be the best player, but there’s just something about him – he’s going to give everything he has whether it’s a practice, a scrimmage, a game, whether we’re watching film. Whatever we do, he’s going to be a good example. When we’re on the bus, when we’re sitting in the stands at an away game, Eli was just everything that I wanted Quakertown basketball to be if somebody is looking at us from a distance.”