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Former Resurrection, DePaul Women's Hoops Star Now Shines for Puerto Rico

JEFFERSON PARK — If she wanted to, Deanna Ortiz could brag a great deal about herself.

The 23-year-old was a basketball star at Resurrection High School, where she's still the career rebound record-holder. A solid career followed at DePaul University, where she earned the Big East Women's Basketball Sportsmanship Award last year as a senior.

And Ortiz, a Jefferson Park resident, is leaving later this month for a second year on the Puerto Rican women's basketball national team.

But the shooting guard doesn't talk much about her accomplishments.

Even one of her closest friends, Becky Sweeney, didn't know Ortiz was a member of the Puerto Rican team until someone else told her.

"She's so down to earth even though she's done extraordinary things," said Sweeney, a Jefferson Park resident who has known Ortiz since they were sixth-graders on the same travel basketball club. "She's not a showy person."

Ortiz said she's always let her basketball exploits do the talking for her.

"My parents [Orlando and Silvia] said always be humble, no matter what," Ortiz said. "If you talk about yourself, you're taking away from the team aspect. To me, the team has always been more important than the individual."

Sweeney, who also played at Resurrection, said Ortiz "was born to play the game." Her high school coach, Kerry Durham, said Ortiz was successful because she has "natural ability and a great feel for the game."

"Her basketball IQ is so high, it makes everything kind of flow," said Durham, of Edison Park.

Ortiz, who has played basketball since she was 6, also worked hard.

She learned the game on a small wooden backboard that still hangs over her family's Jefferson Park garage. Orlando Ortiz, who was a standout player at the former St. Michael School in Lincoln Park, was the taskmaster. He would not let his daughter shoot a right-handed layup until she made 10 with her left hand.

Instead of going out on weekends, she spent countless hours at home with her parents looking at high school game tapes Durham provided her.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno said this year's Blue Demons miss Ortiz's leadership. And he dubbed Ortiz "one of the smartest players I've ever coached."

"She's just an unbelievably great human being," said Bruno, of Rogers Park. "She's out for the other person more than she cares about herself."

Ortiz spent most of last summer on the bench for Puerto Rico. Her best game was a 14-point, 23-minute performance in an 88-43 victory over Mexico.

"For the first year last year, she did a good job," Puerto Rico coach Omar Gonzalez said. "Eventually, she will do good every year. She can play for us for 10 to 15 years if she keeps working hard."

Ortiz said she hopes to compete for Puerto Rico for several years. She can play for the team because her father's parents both were born in Puerto Rico.

Ortiz spent last summer in San Juan training with the team, which failed to make the 2012 Olympic Games after going 0-2 at a qualifying tournament in Turkey.

This year's big tournament is September's FIBA Americas Championship in Veracruz, Mexico. The top three teams from that event qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup for Women.

Ortiz said she feels like a "celebrity" during games in San Juan. Unlike in the States, Ortiz said fans approach players immediately after tilts for autographs.

"I love that feeling to see young girls who admire you," Ortiz said. "It was different than college, but it was fun."

Ortiz plans to become a lawyer after her playing days are over.

Until then, she's living with her parents during the offseason and in a San Juan waterfront apartment during the summer.

"She's had a great career, and I'm glad it's not over yet," Orlando Ortiz said. "It's a great game. Look what it's given her."