Rock-solid resolve launches talented frosh over hardship
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
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