There's a reason people walk past Jose Ortiz and constantly comment, "That dude smells like chlorine."

Now he's two kinds of a rat - gym and pool.

Ortiz, a 6-3, 195-pound senior, is a star wing guard for the basketball team at Math, Civics and Sciences Charter High. The Mighty Elephants practice and play their games at the Columbia North YMCA, at Broad and Master, and that's where Ortiz is known for putting in major pool hours, as well.

It all goes back to last season . . .

Late during warmups before a regular-season game, Ortiz felt a tweak in his left knee. There was pain, but nothing outrageous, and since runs at possible district and state titles were upcoming, Ortiz chose the macho-man approach.

Soon, he was having surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"I thought I could keep going," Ortiz said. "When the doctor checked me out, he said I had to have surgery now. It was devastating to have that happen at that time of the year. Couldn't even help my team. Except to sit there and cheer."

Yesterday, in a Public D contest, Ortiz shot 6-for-12 (2-for-3 on treys) and 4-for-5 for 18 points as MC&S bested visiting William Bodine, 56-43. He also grabbed seven rebounds, and a bathing suit in his gym bag.

"The pool has been a big part of my rehab," he said. "For a while, I was in there 5 days a week for 45 minutes at a time. Now I go at least 3 days, or more if my knee is acting up a little.

"The whole thing really helps me. I go into the water with weights on, and I run and jump like I'm trying to grab rebounds. I jog, too. All in the water. It's great exercise and it's helpful for my knee. When I first started rehabbing, that was really all I could do - water work."

After playing very little at North Catholic, Ortiz exploded last season at MC&S. Showing a quality jumper and aggressive moves to the basket, he averaged 19 points and earned high praise from former Simon Gratz coach Bill Ellerbee, who now hits the Pub trail for enjoyment.

"I love how hard that kid goes," Ellerbee said. "He's a player."

Said Ortiz: "I always went hard, but I also had that thought, 'I still have next year.' Now I know that nothing can ever be taken for granted. I play each game like it's my last. 'Cause it could be.

"I had some schools looking at me, but then they backed off. At least I'm getting some new interest. Rider and Central Connecticut are checking me out. Plus some D-IIs. Everybody wants to see film."

Zaahir Smith added 11 points and four assists for MC&S. Andre Thomas managed 10 points and eight boards. Tarran Prince and Donte Greene halved 20 points for the Ambassadors (let's assume nowhere else in the country yesterday did Mighty Elephants battle Ambassadors) while Eric Raleigh mixed 12 boards and eight blocks.

Ortiz, who lives in Oxford Circle, near Max Myers Playground, intends to major in accounting and at least play ball overseas.

He'll get there by airplane, thank you. *