Penn State signee Karisma Ortiz set for breakout season at Archbishop Mitty
Karisma Ortiz was handling the ball at a recent practice, performing a zigzag drill in which a defender repeatedly forces her to change direction while Ortiz brings the ball up the court.
It's an obstacle course of sorts that Ortiz -- a 6-foot senior shooting guard for Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, California) -- has negotiated countless times, without incident. This time, her pocket was picked, the ball was stripped, and it was a layup at the other end.
Ortiz was frustrated, even though she knew the defender who was guarding her that day was Danielle Robinson, a 28-year-old, three-time WNBA all-star guard and a Mitty graduate who comes back to help out her alma mater whenever possible.
"I didn't think her hands could be that quick," Ortiz said of Robinson, the sixth player selected in the 2011 WNBA draft out of Oklahoma. "But she stripped me clean."
After that, Ortiz did the drill again, with Robinson poised for another theft.
This time, though, the 17-year-old Ortiz blew by her much more experienced opponent.
"We both kind of laughed at it," Ortiz said, "but it was empowering."
Mitty's opponents -- including those next week at the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona -- likely won't be amused when they see the improvement in Ortiz's game this season. The No. 57 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2018 class, Ortiz signed last month with Penn State, choosing the Nittany Lions over USC and others.
Ortiz's statistics last season -- 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals -- were not spectacular, but that's largely due to the fact that she plays on a loaded roster that includes University of San Diego signee Nicole Blakes at forward and star wing Haley Jones, the No. 5 prospect in the 2019 class.
Together, they led the Monarchs to California's Open Division final for the first time in school history. Mitty is the No. 2 team in Week 1 of the espnW 25 Power Rankings, which were unveiled Tuesday.
Ortiz's improvement -- traced at least in part to workouts such as the one with Robinson -- was evident in this season's opener. Ortiz came within one rebound of a triple-double, posting 25 points, 11 assists and nine boards against Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, California).
Mitty coach Sue Phillips has heaped huge praise on Ortiz by comparing her style to Magic Johnson.
"She's a solid 6-foot, close to 6-1, with great handle and incredible court awareness," Phillips said. "She has flair to her game, and her basketball IQ has skyrocketed.
"Even when she's on the bench, she's talking to teammates. 'Did you see that seam? That's how you need to attack the defense.' She's special."
That's certainly the case academically, where Ortiz has a 4.0 GPA. She wants to become a sports broadcaster because being around basketball "makes me most happy."
Ortiz is the only child of a single mother, Laura Presley, who calls herself a "basketball junkie" and said she has yet to miss one of her daughter's games. The streak will likely end when Ortiz goes across the country to join the Nittany Lions.
"I'm going to miss her, but I think she made the right choice," said Presley, whose daughter started playing basketball at age 3. "The Penn State coaching staff is awesome."
Phillips believes the turning point in Ortiz's career came her freshman year, when Mitty had a stack of experienced players.
The coach asked Ortiz and Blakes to play with the freshman team that season while also spending half their practice time with the varsity. Instead of transferring like other young stars might have in that situation, Ortiz and Blakes bought into the plan.
"I thought it was a really good experience," Blakes said. "We did split shift with the varsity and helping make the freshman team better."
Ortiz, though, took a minute to warm up to the idea.
"At first, I was a little bit confused," Ortiz said. "But then I really soaked in that idea of wanting to be a leader. I believed what Coach was saying that his was best for me and the team.
"It was humbling, but I have [Phillips] to thank for the leadership skills I have right now."
Ortiz said she is also grateful to Robinson, for sharing her time with the team.
For her part, Robinson said she enjoys her visits to Mitty.
"When they see me coming, they all say, 'D-Rob, don't be too hard on us,' " Robinson said. "But I usually go full-throttle in whatever drill or scrimmage they need me to do.
"Karisma has handled it really well. I'm a speedy player. But she doesn't let me speed her up. She plays at her own pace. She's very poised."