The nonstop squeaking of rubber soles on the hardwood floor echoing inside Moriarty High School’s gym was interrupted periodically by a man wearing a white long-sleeve T-shirt with the Pintos logo and the word “BASKETBALL” printed on it.

“Hands out in front,” the man called out.

It was midafternoon on the day before Thanksgiving, and the man—Moriarty High’s new boys basketball head coach, Marcus Ortiz—was leading a sweaty group in a long practice.

“Keep working, keep working!” he yelled.

Buzzing around the players like a bumblebee, hustling up and down the court—all while doling out instructions like Yoda to Luke Skywalker, Ortiz rarely stopped moving.

“Never take your eye off the basketball, that’s the number-one rule!” he said a few moments later.

And during a brief water break, he made no bones about the fact that the Pintos have a lot to cover in a short amount of time.

“The guys aren’t used to my style, so it’s a transition for me and for them as well,” he said.

A self-described gym rat, Ortiz grew up playing basketball and learning from his father, Frank Ortiz—a standout player back in the day for Moriarty High and the coach for many years at Santa Rosa.

After playing for—and eventually assistant coaching with—his father in Santa Rosa, Marcus Ortiz spent several more years as an assistant coach at Pecos High and most recently at Capital High in Santa Fe.

Ortiz said he’s been an assistant under some of the best coaches in the state, but Moriarty is his first varsity head-coaching gig.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” Ortiz said. “It’s been a dream of mine, to follow in my dad’s footsteps.”

Ortiz replaces former head coach Mike Trujillo, who piloted the Pintos to the state tournament the past two years—including a trip to the state semifinals last season.

“Coach Trujillo did have a good program and I want to build off that,” Ortiz said.

Coach Ortiz with Michael Pisz.

The Pintos’ new skipper summed up his philosophy as “a super defense plus mental toughness equals victory,” and he noted that there are a lot of hungry players he’s expecting big things from—players who rarely cracked the starting lineup and didn’t get a lot of playing time in past seasons, but will hopefully step up and show they have the mettle to hustle for four quarters.

“A team that has the discipline, the dedication, and desire to play is going to win the game,” he said.

Ortiz acknowledged that Moriarty’s new District 2-4A foes from Northern New Mexico—Taos, Los Alamos, Espanola, Pojoaque—are going to be a challenge, and grinding practices like the ones he held over the Thanksgiving break are pivotal to the team’s success.

“I want my teams to be known as the hardest-working teams inthe state,” Ortiz said. “I think we’ll be all right, we may take our lickings the first half of the season but come district, we’ll be ready.”

The Pintos kick off the season Dec. 4 at home against Del Norte High.