Waldorf’s Otero announces plans to play college basketball
Liam Otero is seeking balance.
It’s why the senior from Santa Fe Waldorf School chose to play basketball and attend the tiny private school. It’s also the guiding principal that led him to continue his education next year while still playing the sport he loves at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Otero, a five-year starter, made that official at a signing day ceremony at Waldorf on Wednesday.
Otero said he started with a list of 400 colleges that he contacted before whittling it down. Otero said the college’s communications program really interested him and he would like to pursue a career in broadcasting after graduating. That the school has a radio station fit what he was looking for. That, and the treatment received from the NCAA Division III Concordia coaches and players.
“In the end, this one stuck out to me in special ways because of the team, the coaching staff and the campus,” Otero said. “The coach was super willing to help me out. The first thing he did was give me his cellphone number, and that set him apart from the other coaches.”
But this season, Otero is seeking balance on the basketball court with both his old and new teammates. Otero is the face of the team created with the team’s merger with Desert Academy. The two schools combined basketball programs for the next two years.
Last season, Otero helped lead Waldorf to the Class 1A State Tournament and is trying to repeat the achievement in Class 2A with the Desert Academy/Santa Fe Waldorf Wild Wolves. The programs merged because they struggled with numbers — Desert Academy had just four players, while Waldorf had the minimum five.
The team didn’t have a chance to work together in the summer. The past month has been one part “getting to know you” and one part learning how to play with each other under the system run by head coach Enrique Otero, who is Liam’s father. The roster Enrique Otero inherited is mostly underclassmen, which added another element to the changes.
“Young players, in general, tend to dismiss nuance and details,” coach Otero said. “We have received a lot of young players without much experience, so the process has been heavy in instructing and going back to fundamentals — very basic things that don’t seem important but show up in the end.”
Freshman Cameron Motola, who played for Desert Academy last year, said the players from the Wildcats program are adjusting from playing man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone defense that Waldorf has run for years. He added, the new team is also running a more structured offense than what he played a year ago, and it has taken some time to familiarize himself with it.
“We did run plays [last year],” Motola said. “[Otero] likes to run some plays, and they are really just introducing us to that system. But they are really helping us with that.”
What the Wild Wolves — a combination of Desert Academy’s Wildcats and Waldorf’s Wolves nicknames — have learned is that their best option is getting the ball into the hands of Liam Otero. He is averaging 29.8 points per game as Desert Academy/Waldorf is off to a 1-4 start. Otero scored 36 points in a 52-48 loss to Coronado on Tuesday, which in part highlighted some of the team’s issues.
One part is the overreliance on Otero, which leads opponents to double- and triple-team him. The other are those “little things” that still elude the younger players, such as boxing out, looking for the open player and knocking down open shots. Motola added that it’s not like Otero is dominating every possession.
“When he’s doubled and triple teamed, he looks for the open man,” Motola said. “It’s just our job to make shots and make the defenses pay.”
Both Oteros add that Liam is finding ways to score, whether its on passes off of cuts, getting the ball in the post, beating teams downcourt in transition or muscling his way into the paint for rebounds.
“One of my Achilles’ heels is rebounding, and being strong in the post,” Liam Otero said. “When I was in eighth, ninth, 10th grade, I played varsity as a guard on offense and up top [in the zone] on defense. Now that I’ve been able to grow physically, that has been a challenge — trying to accommodate to new positions.”
The growth has been noticeable. Otero was a gangly 5-foot-9 as an eighth-grader, but has grown to a shade under 6-5 in five years. Liam Otero said the skills he learned as a guard will no doubt help him when he transitions to college.
“In college [basketball], I’m not very tall,” Otero said. “The good thing is, when [the Concordia coaches] asked what position I played, I couldn’t answer them in one position.”
And sometimes, there is balance in variety.