Rock-solid re­solve launches tal­ented frosh over hard­ship

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider

au­rora» The point guard with a hole in his skull saw a sliver of day­light and burst to­ward the bas­ket.

Quin­ten Rock, a fresh­man starter at Smoky Hill, was run­ning a fast-break drill just be­fore the sea­son be­gan in late Novem­ber. The eyes and feet on the 5-foot-10 guard sold the idea that he was headed to­ward the rim, and Rock crouched as if he was pre­par­ing to leap at the bas­ket.

As the de­fender surged in his di­rec­tion, though, Rock dropped off a pass as soft as a pil­low for a trail­ing big man, catch­ing his team­mate in stride for a thun­der­ing dunk.

Team­mates hollered ap­proval. Rock just turned and ran back down the court.

“There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing able to play and know­ing how to play,” Smoky Hill coach An­thony Hardin said. “‘Q’ is one of those kids who just knows how to play. He plays the point guard po­si­tion un­selfishly. He knows when to be as­sertive and knows when to de­fer.”

Rock be­gins his high school ca­reer as a player al­ready be­ing touted as a next-level prospect. He scored 27 points in his high school de­but against Brighton. He picked up a schol­ar­ship of­fer from the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver be­fore even play­ing a high school game. He played this past AAU sea­son with Mac Irvin Fire, an elite club team out of Chicago that plays on the Nike Elite Youth Bas­ket­ball League cir­cuit, which is stocked with the coun­try’s top play­ers.

But three months be­fore he was set to start his fresh­man year, Rock was left to won­der whether bas­ket­ball, a sport he lived and breathed from the mo­ment he could hold a ball, might be stolen from

him.

In the fall of 2015, Rock left Colorado to live with his fa­ther, for­mer Utah State player Bernard Rock, in Chicago. Rock has a tight kin­ship with his mother, Melisa Or­donez, but he wanted to spend his eighth-grade year test­ing him­self against top-level play­ers to pre­pare him­self for high school.

A cou­ple of months af­ter he started eighth grade in Chicago, Rock be­gan ex­pe­ri­enc­ing se­vere headaches that wouldn’t re­lent.

“We went to the pe­di­a­tri­cian, and the pe­di­a­tri­cian said, ‘Oh, I think you might need a CT scan,’ ” said Or­donez, who made fre­quent trips to visit her son while he was liv­ing in Chicago. “Noth­ing se­ri­ous ever crosses your mind like that.”

The doc­tor de­ter­mined that Rock’s headaches were prob­a­bly a re­sult of his diet, and she or­dered him to cut out most of his sodium and caf­feine in­take. But she also wanted to or­der a CT scan to be sure.

One week af­ter the CT scan, Or­donez re­ceived a call from the pe­di­a­tri­cian, who said she be­lieved Rock had a Chiari mal­for­ma­tion, a struc­tural de­fect in the cere­bel­lum, the part of the brain that con­trols bal­ance and other func­tions.

A neu­ro­sur­geon con­firmed the di­ag­no­sis and set an ap­point­ment for fur­ther eval­u­a­tion eight weeks later. Or­donez pep­pered her key­board in the mean­time, search­ing the in­ter­net for in­for­ma­tion.

“You fear for his phys­i­cal health, but I also feared for his men­tal health,” Or­donez said. “If his doc­tor told him that he couldn’t play bas­ket­ball any­more, I ac­tu­ally think that would have been more dam­ag­ing to him than some­thing phys­i­cal. When peo­ple say, ‘Ball is life,’ they don’t take it lit­er­ally. But that re­ally is his life.”

The meet­ing with a sur­geon re­vealed Rock, then 14 years old, had a sy­rinx — a fluid-filled cav­ity — in his spine, which could cause neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age if left un­treated. He needed brain surgery in or­der to cre­ate more room for the fluid to fully drain into the spine. It re­quired tak­ing out of a piece of the bot­tom of his skull.

“I didn’t want to be ner­vous be­fore the surgery, so I just had the doc­tors tell my mom and dad what was hap­pen­ing,” Rock said. “I didn’t re­ally know what was go­ing on, so I wasn’t re­ally ner­vous un­til the surgery.”

As Rock ap­proached the surgery on May 4, he re­ally only had one ques­tion.

“He just wanted to know when he’d be able to play bas­ket­ball,” Or­donez said. “He re­fused to ac­cept any an­swer other than ‘You’ll be able to play.’ ”

Re­cov­ery came with an in­de­ter­mi­nate timetable. The doc­tor told Or­donez that some kids needed up to two weeks of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion af­ter the surgery, and phys­i­cal re­cov­ery af­ter that could be a slow process.

Rock walked out of the hospi­tal the next day. By the following week­end he was back in the gym, watch­ing his Mac Irvin Fire team play in a tour­na­ment.

When Rock went for a twoweek checkup, his nurses had planned to be­gin a plan for phys­i­cal ther­apy, a com­mon prac­tice af­ter a five-hour surgery that cuts through neck mus­cles. In­stead, Rock went to shootaround that day. By July, 10 weeks af­ter brain surgery, he was back on the court, trav­el­ing to Las Ve­gas for a tour­na­ment.

While Or­donez missed her son dearly, she gave him her bless­ing to stay in Chicago for high school if that’s what he truly wanted. She has the means to travel and would be there for his games either way.

But Rock learned how much of a pull he had for Colorado, and the bond with his mother yanked on him, too.

“My mom is spe­cial,” he said. “She’s al­ways there. She’s ev­ery­thing for me.”

Now he has joined a Smoky Hill team that is loaded with po­ten­tial Divi­sion I prospects, in­clud­ing sopho­more guard Kenny Fos­ter and ju­nior for­wards John Harge and Will Becker. The squad has as­pi­ra­tions for a deep Class 5A play­off run.

The Buf­faloes are well aware noth­ing will hold back their young point guard. The 4-inch scar that crawls up the back of his head pro­vides proof.

“I just want to stay fo­cused and stay on my goals,” Rock said. “Win state, be fresh­man of the year, all that stuff. I just stay fo­cused.”

Quin­ten Rock, a fresh­man at Smoky Hill High School, al­ready has a schol­ar­ship of­fer from the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Be­fore Quentin Rock could start his first high school bas­ket­ball sea­son, he un­der­went brain surgery. This year, he has been cleared to play for Smoky Hill. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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