When a big name arrives, someone has to pay the price. For one man on Reyer Venezia’s roster, he’s all too used to not being the go to guy but Nicolò Origgi found plenty of cause for Ben Ortner to take heart from the role he has so often played. As we bid farewell to the 2016/17 season, here’s a look at why Ortner has cause to celebrate another Scudetto
Venice has finally broken a 74-year-long spell after a hard-fought game six success in Trento that meant the achievement of a third Italian title for the old Reyer club. Among the winners, though, a man with a long history of fierce battles on the hardwood was once again sitting out in street clothes during a finals’ bout, sacrificed in favour of the more imposing Batista in spite of the latter’s calf injury that forced him to miss games three and four. No matter how important this blue-collar player’s contribution had been in the pivotal third match, hierarchies had to be respected until the end. Eventually, although the Uruguayan beast was not his usual dominant self, it paid off.
Back in 2011 spring, another club with a rich yet dated pedigree was about to start the postseason with new-found ambitions under the guidance of Andrea Trinchieri, led on court by a bunch of seemingly tailor-made players such as Nicolas Mazzarino, Vladimir Micov, Manuchar Markoishvili and Maarten Leunen. As a proof of that, a tough-as-nail Serbian enforcer named Marko Scekic was brought on the ship in the waning days of the regular season with the purpose of extending team rotations in the upcoming playoffs. His immediate impact, though, soon proved detrimental to an Austrian bruiser who had fit his role perfectly up to then. The then number eight would indeed lose minutes and, ultimately, even his roster spot over the course of the postseason, being activated only a couple of times both in the semifinal and final series.
The victim in both cases can be identified as Benjamin Ortner, a 12-year Italian league veteran with a US basketball background and unsuspectable hops for a white guy born and raised in a land of world-class skiers and woodworkers. Displaying intriguing upside since day one, the lanky yet sculpted big man had to undertake a tough learning curve both in Reggio Emilia and Udine as he twice expeirienced relegation to LegaDue in his first four seasons on Italian soil while struggling to find consistency. Not suited for go-to-guy duties due to a light frame and a resulting weak low post game, Ben saw his career turn around when Cantù’s Bruno Arrigoni inked him the same summer of Trinchieri’s appointment. Finally part of a well-oiled machine, he quickly established himself as a reliable role player willing to do the dirty work that does not show up in the boxscore – his quick feet and timely weakside defence often resulting in drawn charges have always had few rivals in the league – while also maximizing his face-up game and talents as a roll man. As already anticipated, such idyll would come to an abrupt end but, after a transitory stint in a soon-to-be-folded Benetton Treviso and even a brief cameo in Germany, Ortner would be rescued by the team that he could not challenge as much as deserved in those damned 2011 finals. In Siena, the unselfish center had the chance to debut in Euroleague at the age of 29 and avenge past disappointments by playing a pivotal role in the deciding semifinal games as well as in the whole final series that led to the seventh Scudetto in a row for the Tuscany club. Mens Sana’s bankruptcy at the end of the following season, however, forced him to join Venice alongside teammates Tomas Ress and Jeff Viggiano – this year, Marquez Haynes expanded the 2013/14 Montepaschi colony on the lagoon as well. There, he silently went on doing what he has always done best until the new unwelcomed twist of fate. The same apparently adverse fate, however, at least conceded Ben a chance to leave his mark on Reyer’s historic triumph. Needless to say, regardless of the courtside seat waiting for him again, this time Austria’s greatest has not let it slip away. While not all German speakers might know what carpe diem means, there is no doubt that Benjamin Ortner really had to learn how to seize the moment out of necessity.