PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – It’s been a week and a half since the Phoenix Suns’ season came to a screeching halt. It’ll take Mr. ORNG a lot longer still to get over that hurt. But the Suns’ biggest supporter now turns his attention to his Peoria high school boys basketball team and next month’s Section 7 tournament at State Farm Stadium.
Peoria senior Saieed Hasan remembers the first time a teammate told him their varsity basketball coach, Patrick Battillo, was also Suns superfan Mr. ORNG.
“I was like, ‘who is MR ORNG?’ And no he’s not,” Hasan says. “So he showed me a picture and I was like, ‘him?’”
Yes, him. The guy who’s become the single most recognizable Suns fan over the last 12 years. When Panthers players go to a game at Footprint Center with the alter ego, their minds are blown all over again.
“He’s actually like sort of famous in the arena,” says senior Andrew Camacho.
“At least six people were like, ‘can I get a picture, can I get a picture?’” Hasan added. “I was like, ‘oh, so he’s actually famous for real.’ I was like, ‘oh my God.’”
After painting his face orange and donning either an orange wig or orange fedora every other day for a month, traveling to New Orleans and Dallas for Suns playoff games, Battillo isn’t quite over the abruptness that came with Phoenix’s postseason flameout.
“Oh, you know, it’s going to take some time,” he sighs. “It keeps coming to my mind. It’s like, how did this happen and why are we not still in this?”
But Battillo is right back around the game he loves most.
“Outside of my family and God, you know, basketball is it,” he says. “At the high school level, especially, just the impact you get to make on these young men, you know, to me, there’s nothing more rewarding.”
Battillo and the Panthers, coming off a 21-6 season, are now gearing up for a run of summer tournaments, highlighted by next month’s Section 7 at State Farm Stadium, when some 200 teams and 500 college coaches descend on the site of the 2024 NCAA Men’s Final Four.
“You should just see their eyes light up for the first time when some of them walk in there to actually play,” says Battillo, whose team played in the event last summer.
Hasan says, “It’s so cool. At first, I was like, wow, this is crazy.”
Camacho says, “It’s just really cool to play in a stadium like that.”
Whether he goes by Coach Pat or Mr. ORNG, Battillo is sheer positive energy. Over the weekend, he was able to share an amazing progress video of his dad, Bob, who is still in recovery after being hit by a red-light runner in October. He’s now in a rehab facility following more than seven months in the hospital.
“For our family, it’s been an amazing blessing,” Battillo says. “His cognitive side is still a work in progress, and we don’t know the extent of what that damage will be. But he knows who we are. So we’re having conversations with him. He still has the trach, but there’s a speaking valve so we’re able to communicate and have words as opposed to just lip reading. So, baby steps, we still have a way to go, but definitely looking way better from where it started, you know, 215 days ago now.”
There is a GoFundMe to help with ongoing care needs for Bob Battillo. You can find that link here.
Section 7 runs from June 16th-19th and general admission is free.
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