If Osvaldo “Ozzie” Urena were an online business, he would be Amazon.
Whatever one needs from Ozzie, they can get.
“He’s my Swiss pocketknife,” Bordentown High basketball coach John Myers said. “He’s dedicated to the craft of doing what needs to be done. He’s that kid that says ‘I’ll cover him.’ He’s that kid who will make a big three. He’s that kid that will be like ‘We’re not rebounding well’ and he’ll get the next rebound. He’s that kid that will take the charge.”
In other words, he’s that kid that no team can do without. Even the Scotties’ latest high-profile player, Jordan Martin, understands that scorers alone don’t make a winning squad.
“Ozzie’s a big piece of this team,” said Martin, who led the 8-2 Scotties with a 21.7 average through 10 games. “He’s our defensive anchor. When he’s playing defense he gets steals, blocks and boosts our whole team to play defense. Plus he gets the rebounds. If you need a quick 3, he’ll get it. He’ll dribble the ball, he’s a great player.”
Urena, like most players, would like to score more. But he likes to win more than anything else, so he takes on the pocketknife role.
“I try to do everything for my teammates because I know that we’re gonna miss some pieces,” he said. “So I just go as hard as I can during the game and do as much as I can for the team.”
The 5-foot-11 Urena put that attitude on full display during a Jan. 13 win at Northern Burlington in which the Scotties had to rally from a nine-point deficit. The senior collected 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists and always seemed to make a good play when necessary. He was part of a blistering second-half defensive effort that sparked the victory.
“He’s played a significant amount of minutes since he was a sophomore,” Myers said. “You have the Jordan Martins of the world, you have (high scoring teammate) Gavin Shivers, the (high-scoring grads) Jacquey Mendezes, the Manny Ansongs, the Darnill Browns. But it’s the Ozzies that really have been the key to our success over the last seven years. You’re talking about a kid who not only can score 10 points a game but he’s gonna get six rebounds and two steals and cover their best player whether he’s 6-foot-4 or a 5-foot-8 point guard.”
The coach went on to note that Urena missed Bordentown’s Jan. 4 game with Nottingham, which resulted in a 13-point loss. Myers felt had he been in the lineup, the game would have been much closer.
“I’m not gonna say we would have beat them, they played wonderful,” the coach said. “But we had a discipline challenge during the game that he would have corrected. He would have calmed the frustration that was building. You lose those intangibles and the score becomes worse than it would have if he were playing.”
What makes Urena such a feel-good story is the way his scholastic career began. Or, more accurately, didn’t begin.
Urena played baseball growing up but would shoot hoops with his father, John, who eventually encouraged him to try and play basketball competitively. Urena started organized hoops prior to sixth grade and was shattered after being cut from the middle school team that year.
“I didn’t even make it past the first cut,” he said. “I felt terrible. I cried in the bathroom.”
As it is with every kid in that situation, Urena was told of how Michael Jordan was cut from his freshman team in high school. He dedicated himself to basketball and came back to make the team in seventh grade.
“I just went to the YMCA every day,” he said. “I watched videos on YouTube on how to get better. I’ve never really had coaches to help me get better ’til after I started playing. But I knew all my work was going to pay off.”
He also played AAU for the Bordentown Ballers from sixth to eighth grade but had a lot of work to make up.
“At first I was pretty bad,” Urena said. “I had to really grind to get better and get to where my teammates were so I could play with them.”
He grinded his way onto the JV team in ninth grade after a brief stint on the freshman squad. A year later, Urena was getting steady minutes with the varsity and has been making an impact ever since.
“It surprised me a little bit to play so much as a sophomore,” he said. “But when I got comfortable, I thought I was ready.”
He averaged 4 points per game in 10th grade and began to do all the little things that would become his legacy. Last year he improved to 6.5 ppg and this year, he was averaging a career-best 8.5 points through nine games and had solid numbers in numerous other statistical categories. He scored a career-high 20 points in a win over Pennsauken Jan.16.
Although no one number blares out on Urena’s stat sheet, a whole bunch of solid figures help paint an impressive picture.
“His strength is his ability to do everything,” Myers said. “There’s a unique talent to a kid that can score 18 to 24 points a game. It’s rare. It’s a talent in and of itself. But what Ozzie does is a talent that those kids don’t have. The ability to focus on the entirety of the game.”
Urena feels there is no secret to his ability to be so versatile.
“I’m just always pushing myself the hardest I can because I know if I don’t push myself I’m not gonna get any better,” he said.
What’s interesting about Urena is that his persona in the locker room is much like he is on the court. Whatever needs to be done vocally, he will do it.
“He’s a kid who understands the situation and reacts accordingly,” Myers said. “Is he joking around? Sometimes. Is he laying in the weeds? Sometimes. Does he say ‘Get your freakin’ act together?’ Sometimes. Does he say ‘Yo man, you got this next time.’ Yes.
“He’s not perfect, he’s not walking on water. But he’s a really good kid in a program like ours, which has been fortunate to be successful. He recognizes we’re successful because of all the things he does.”
Of all his attributes, Urena takes the most pride in his defense.
“I try to play as hard a defense as I can,” he said. “It’s all mental. If you tell yourself you’re gonna stop a kid, you’re gonna have a higher chance of stopping the kid.”
Off the court, Urena’s grades are solid enough that he is considering college. He is unsure if he will continue playing basketball.
For now, he will continue to do the little things that rarely make the headlines.
“That’s OK with me,” he said. “As long as my team is winning.”