LA MIRADA — It was right around fifth or sixth grade when George Ochoa realized his calling.
“I did football, I did soccer, I did baseball,” he said. “I was a very active kid. And I didn’t really like any of those sports.”
He said they did not intrigue him, “As much as basketball did.”
Choosing to display his athletic talents on the hardwood while still in grammar school has paid dividends for both Ochoa and the La Mirada boys basketball team. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is averaging 20 points and eight rebounds and is coming off a week in which he scored a combined 64 points, grabbed 29 rebounds and blocked seven shots in three victories.
Matadores coach Randy Oronoz first saw Ochoa play in middle school.
“He was pretty advanced,” Oronoz said. “Really a tough kid, can shoot it. His skill set is pretty advanced for being a sophomore.”
Being tall and athletic with a natural ability to score is terrific. But there is something Oronoz likes even more than that about Ochoa, a transfer from Orange Lutheran who saw limited action last season on the Lancers’ varsity team.
“The thing I’m most impressed about this year is his IQ has grown,” Oronoz said. “George has always been bigger and stronger and more dominant than kids his own age. But getting a lot of varsity minutes, playing against guys his own size, it’s forced him to not just rely on his athletic ability and skill ability, but it’s really forced him to work on his IQ.”
Oronoz said that stuff may not necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but it gets noticed by the right people.
“It’s caught the eye of some college coaches that have followed him through his young career already,” Oronoz said.
Sitting on a bench outside the La Mirada Community Center before practice Wednesday, Ochoa spoke like a seasoned veteran about his basketball IQ.
“Well, improving it was actually playing a lot more basketball, the way Randy is coaching me,” Ochoa said. “He’s coaching me to see when you’re driving, there is always going to be an open man. So a lot of this year and games before (that) I played, there was a lot of double-teaming.
“I had to learn in practice while I was being double-teamed a lot, learn how to look for the open pass or how to create my own pass. I would have to create my own shot coming off a ball-screen. It was a lot of IQ stuff going on and he is just trying to teach me and make me grow from it.”
Ochoa, a guard/forward who can play any position when needed, seemed excited when he talked about this part of his game.
“From last year to this year, I feel like my IQ has actually really, really grown from what I was doing because I didn’t really get a lot of playing time last year,” he said. “But this year, he (Oronoz) is letting me go through mistakes and letting me learn from them.”
With his young career heating up, Ochoa is hopeful he can turn the interest from college coaches into offers. He said he’s always asking Oronoz to tell him what college recruiters think of him so he can improve upon anything they may think he’s lacking.
On Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Whittier College, La Mirada (14-10, 2-0) will host Mayfair (12-11, 2-0) in a game between the Suburban League’s two best teams. Monsoons coach Tony Davis thinks a lot of Ochoa.
“Young, talented offensive player,” Davis said in a text Wednesday.
Ochoa is excited about the opportunity to play on the same floor as Mayfair’s 6-foot-5 senior guard Josh Christopher, the area’s best player and a 2020 McDonald’s All-American. Christopher has been offered by numerous big-time schools.
“Well, I think it’s a great opportunity to go up against a McDonald’s All-American,” Ochoa said. “He’s a five-star player and has many Division I offers. I’m trying to go display what I can do, show the crowd I’m just as talented, or I’m working to be.
“I’m trying to go out there and prove myself and make my name for myself.”
It seems he’s already doing that.