NORMAL - Roberto Fortes admits he's a quiet person who claims to be down-to-earth and keeps to himself.
Lately, though, the Illinois State junior college transfer from Daytona Beach Community College has been making a lot of noise for the Redbirds.
The 6-foot-4 guard has notched career-highs for points in each of the last four games when his playing time went from 100 total minutes in ISU's first 21 games to 118 minutes in the last four contests.
Fortes, who had a career-high 23 points in the Redbirds' last game (the most by an ISU player this season), has averaged 18.6 points over the last three games while logging 29.5 minutes per outing.
He averaged 22.5 points in two games last week, while shooting 61.9 percent (13 of 21) from 3-point range and 55.6 percent from the field, to earn the Missouri Valley Conference's Newcomer of the Week honor ahead of tonight's 7:05 league game against Missouri State at Redbird Arena.
"Coach (Porter Moser) has been giving me the opportunity to just go out and play and told me to not worry about anything else,"' said Fortes. "'Before when I went into the game I was always worrying about if I didn't play good defense or made this mistake or that mistake that I was coming right out.
"Me and Coach talked a couple of times about the things that were holding me back from playing. He told me if I got those things down that it would make a huge difference. I finally figured out I'd better work really hard in practice to improve in those areas if I wanted to play."
Moser said those areas included defense, toughness with the ball and working without the ball to get shots.
"'We talked about his defense and having more intensity with the ball," said Moser. "We talked about him not being soft and casual with the ball, and being able to come off screens and get his shots.
"'It was unbelievable the approach he took to try and get better. Sometimes there is a transition period with junior college players and things just start to click. I think Roberto finally figured out if he didn't change some things that he wasn't going to play and the year was going to pass him by."
Fortes admits there was resistance on his part to accept things until three weeks ago when the light seemed to go on in his head.
"I guess I didn't understand the difference between Division I and junior college," said Fortes. "'Coming from a junior college, I was expecting to come in and play right away. I didn't think anything was going to hold me back.
"I thought I was giving it my all in practice. I thought I was working hard, but my working hard was different from Coach's working hard. I was getting frustrated because junior college transfers are supposed to come in and play right away and help the team.
"I wasn't doing that and felt my year was being wasted. I decided I had to be selfish to make myself better to make the team better. If I wasn't getting better then I wasn't helping the team."
Moser is a coach who rewards players for their efforts in practice and it became very noticeable to him that Fortes was making strides. That's when his minutes went up at the Drake game on Feb. 7.
"It became very evident he was addressing the things we talked about," added Moser. "I told him he was going to play more and that he didn't have to worry about that. I told him to take that fear out of the equation and just concentrate on defense, his toughness and getting open for shots."
Fortes, who graduated from Fort Wayne (Ind.) North High School after spending the first eight years of his life in Angola and living in Portugal for three years, said that conversation helped him.
"Coach has been letting me play and I'm getting more comfortable out there," added Fortes. "The more minutes you get the more comfortable you get. I could understand why I wasn't playing more earlier, but any player thinks he should be playing more.
"Even though you know in the back of your mind the reason why you aren't playing, you still start blaming other people and other things. I realized it was on me. I'm just going out there now and playing my game. I just want to go out there and help us get a win. That's all that matters to me."
Fortes also realizes he is going to draw more defensive attention.
"I know other teams are going to start targeting me," he said. "But if they give me more attention that should open things up for everybody else."
Moser said Fortes has a quick release and has always been a good shooter.
"We've always known that Roberto was a good player," added Moser. "And we were disappointed he wasn't playing more earlier and wasn't a factor sooner. We knew Roberto could make shots.
"He has such a quick trigger and he can get a lot better. When he gets his mid-range game down to where he is threat there then he is really going to improve that much more."
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