When Aimee Oertner decided to further her basketball career at the US Military Academy, she didn't know exactly what she was getting into.
But in a short period of time the 2012 Northern Lehigh graduate has assimilated to life as a cadet. She has also excelled on the court early in her Division I career.
"Going through basic training and everything, it was completely different," Oertner said. "I did not have any military background so I was really new to everything. It was tough. But the girls on the team, we're like family so we got each other through it."
It didn't take long for the two-time all state selection to make an impact on the hardwood at West Point.
A 6-foot-2 forward/center, Oertner has played in all of Army's 17 games and started 15 of them. She has a team-high five double-doubles while averaging 7.6 points per game and 7.9 rebounds in 25.4 minutes, Oertner is ninth in the nation with 47 blocked shots.
"It was pretty obvious to me that she was our starting center going into the season," said Army head coach Dave Magarity. "The very first game of the year I didn't start her because the match ups weren't great. I bring her off the bench and she has a great game."
Oertner had 18 points and 12 rebounds in that game. She went on to earn Patriot League Freshman of the Week honors for her early season performance and has earned the accolade three times this season.
"I'm so thankful for everything," she said. "I couldn't do it without my team. Without them I would not be anything."
A 1,700-point scorer and Colonial League MVP in high school, Oertner was asked to put the Bulldogs on her back at times during her senior year. This year she can focus on just playing center for the Black Knights.
"I don't have to always be the star player," she said. "I can just got out and do my one job and do that well.
"I'm just doing my best, trying to get all the rebounds I can and doing what the coaches tell me."
doing what the coaches tell me."
That's what Magarity loves to hear. He recruited Oertner because he feels she has a lot of 'upside.' And he knew that her high school head coach, her father Dave Oertner, instilled a solid foundation of fundamental skills.
"The thing that was interesting about her," Magarity said, "was her versatility and the ability for her to do things at her size that a lot of kids aren't comfortable doing. I credit her father. Her father knew what he had.
"She's got to become more of a force around the basket. That will come with experience. She's going to get better. She's got terrific upside. She's such a coachable kid."
Magarity likened Oertner to Parkland graduate Erin Anthony, who he coached to great success at Army. Anthony became tougher with each passing year.
Oertner wears a smile that seldom leaves her face and has a pleasant demeanor to match. But Magarity believes she can learn to wear a scowl on the court.
"Her attitude is so good and she's got a nice way about her," he said. "She's a sweet kid. Sometimes she's too nice. Erin Anthony was like that. But by the time Anthony got to be a junior or a senior she was a tough kid. She had a drive to her. It's there in Aimee. We've just got to bring it out of her a little more."
Magarity also likes Oertner's resilience. He recalled a game at Morgan State (Baltimore, MD) in early January. He pulled Oertner out because she wasn't at her best early in the contest. He put her back in at crunch time with great results.
"I put her in at the end of the game because we needed her in there," Magarity said. "She blocked four straight shots down the stretch. They're dead on lay ups and she blocked them. She changed the end of the game."
The adjustment to Division I basketball went as smoothly as Oertner could have expected. Her adjustment to life on the base, where freshmen are referred to as plebes, was nearly as seamless.
She got through all of the initiation rituals and is learning to live the regimented life of a cadet.
"I came in blind to it," she said. "I didn't know anything. The first few days were rough. I was yelled at sometimes because I didn't know anything. One of the girls on the team went to [military] prep school, so she helped me a lot.
"It was difficult getting the whole Army lingo and waking up early and that kind of stuff. Looking back on it now, the things I did I'm really proud of myself for doing. Before I could never think I would shoot guns or anything like that. But now that I did it, I'm proud of myself."
Magarity expected Oertner to be a contributor to his team. But he didn't realize it would be this quickly.
"She's far exceeded where I thought she'd be right now," said the fifth-year Army mentor who coached the mens team at Marist for 18 years. "I also think she's got terrific upside."
The Black Knights improved to 13-4 overall and 2-0 in the Patriot League after beating Lafayette Monday.