Bigger than Ball Vol. 3: Antonio Rizzuto

Hoop Group’s Elite Basketball Camp is the most popular grassroots basketball camp in the country.  Over 600 young men from 33 states and seven countries travel to the small town of Reading, Pennsylvania for the opportunity to compete against the best of their peers in front of hundreds of college coaches.  All 600 of them share the same dream of one day playing college basketball.  In a camp setting like this, it’s often difficult to stand out amongst other gifted players.  Talent can sometimes disappear in a sea of faces and numbers.

 

To stand out in a crowd, something about you or what you do must be remarkable.  For 6’4” guard Antonio Rizzuto that exceptional trait is his unshakable fortitude.  Rizzuto plays with a toughness and resolute demeanor that is seldom found in players his age.  His team collected an easy 15 point victory in their first game, rallying behind his high energy and unselfish approach.  When we asked Rizzuto about the great performance, on of the first things he mentioned were the numerous times he got on the floor for loose balls.  If he was a baseball player, Rizzuto would have the dirtiest uniform at the end of every game.  

 

We’re not the only ones who have noticed Antonio recently.  Near the beginning of last summer Rizzuto remained relatively undiscovered on the youth basketball circuit.  He now holds scholarship offers from a multitude of Division I schools, including Columbia and Boston University.  Rizzuto credits his perseverance to his high school coach John Eyster.  In spite of being a standout talent as a high school freshman, Antonio failed to make the varsity basketball team. Coach Eyster pushed Rizzuto to improve and build on his natural talent.  Rizzuto is now a top player in the state of PA.  

 

We conducted our Bigger than Ball Q & A interview with Antonio, and touched on what motivates him to strive for greatness and what he hopes to gain from basketball.  

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Who’s you favorite basketball player to watch?

Probably Isiah Thomas. He defies the odds.  He’s a small guy and he has to do everything right. I think he’s got everything in his game.  He’s got the ball handling the shot, and he can drop 30 in the NBA.

Who would you say you pattern your game after:

So, this guy didn’t really play in the NBA, but probably Aaron Craft.  I like his game.  When I was growing up I would watch Ohio State play a lot.  He was someone I wanted to be like, always getting on the floor, always being a leader.  

Even as a standout player, everyone has room to get better.  What skills do you hope to improve in your game?

I want to become more of a passing guard, get guys open.  I gotta work on floaters a little bit.  A lot of the time when you get caught coming to the middle and there’s a big guy there, you gotta get a floater in.  Also, I want to just keep improving my jumpshot; getting in the gym and shooting 1000 shots a day.  Me and my father are in there all the time.  

How does your father feel about your success on the court?

He didn’t play at all, but he loves ball.  He works me out whenever I want.  Two of my cousins played D1 at Albany, so he watched them grow up playing from the time they were little until now.  So he loves it.

Where’s your family from?

My grandparents parents came from Sicily.  I have a lot of family out there.

Is your entire family Italian?

Yeah man, my whole family, we got good Christmases.  A lot of good food.  We actually have a wedding coming up, and my grandma makes like hundreds of cookies, so it’s great.   

If you could have dinner with two famous people, who would they be?

Probably Tom Hanks and Lebron.

Where do you work on your game at?

We practically have the key to the gym.  My head coach lives in my neighborhood and the athletic director lives right next to the school, so it’s just a quick text and they give me the key.  But, if for some reason I can’t get in, I just go to the local park, and it has lights; so especially during the summer I’m out there all day.  We’re out there all the time.  

It seems like you spend a lot of time working to get better, what drives you to be great in basketball?

“First off free education, and I mean that seriously.  That’s what’s gonna get me places.  It makes my family proud, and that’s one of the things that keeps me going. I want to keep doing it for that.”

You vs. Lavar Ball one on one:

How’s he gonna play me? Is he gonna back me down or just shoot?  I’m not sure…but I’m competitive and I always go into every game with the mindset that I’m better than the person I’m playing and I’m going to win.  If you don’t think that way when you’re playing then you aren’t thinking the right way.

Who has been the most influential coach you’ve played for?

Gotta be my high school coach John Eister.  There’s a lot of things that come into playing with him.  Hes interesting.  Coming to be a freshman at my school until the point where I am now I’ve grown.  You have to earn playing time…really gotta earn it.  Even if you’re a freshman and one of the top dogs, you gotta earn it.  You have to continue to keep working.  I think that really helped me.  You could be upset about not playing varsity as a freshman, I didn’t play varsity as a freshman, but there’s a difference.  Some people go down on that, and some people rise up.  Looking back on that I’m glad he did it because I had to push myself to get better rather than thinking I’m great right away.  

We noticed you playing right away, you really stood out.  In a gym full of 600 kids at camp, how do you set yourself apart?

Last year when no one really knew me, I think me working harder than everyone else helped.  It’s not even like, yeah I played good or I made my shots.  I think simple stuff like taking charges, diving on the ground help.  I dove on the ground a couple times today.  

What do you look for in recruiting?  What influences you to go to a particular school?

I gotta feel like I’m at home.  I want to feel like the coaches are my friend.  I’m not gonna go somewhere where I’m not comfortable, but I understand a coach is a coach.  I want someone who’s gonna yell at me on the court, then be my friend off the court.  I don’t want someone who’s going to be not my friend on the court and not my friend off the court.  I want someone who can understand me as a person and as a player.  There’s a balance.  So, for instance, you got St. Joe’s.  Phil Martelli’s an awesome guy.  He might yell at you on the court, but he’s gonna be cool with you on and off the court.  The assistants are great also.  

Favorite rapper?

It’s gotta be Drake.  I was actually just listening to him on my way here.

What do you like to do with your free time away from school and ball?

I go to church. I’m Christian.  Other than that? I go fishing.  I like fishing.  My friend, he’s got a boat.  So we always go fishing.  I just got introduced to that.  

Where do you see yourself a couple years from now?

First off, I gotta get my diploma.  I want to start off strong (in college).  One thing I’ve realized is is that you have to start off at the bottom every so often.  When you come from middle to high school you gotta start from the bottom and work your way up.  When you get to college you have to start at the bottom and work your way up.   

What do you hope to do with your life after basketball?

I want to own a business someday, but I don’t know what I want to do with that yet.   I just want  to own something and find something I enjoy.  So much stuff is fun.  I see people doing fun stuff, but they gotta work hard to get there.

What’s some advice you can give to yourself to help you reach your goals?

For me you gotta know yourself.  You have to know your boundaries.  You have to stay true to yourself.  Don’t worry about what other people are doing just so you can be cool.  I gotta stay myself no matter what.  When I go to college I have to be stay the same person I am now.

Bigger Than Ball Vol. 1: Deandre Thomas

-Thomas Hayden

Being the writer on staff for the HoopGroup camp I’m charged with the precarious task of interviewing the      pre-teens and young adults of grassroots basketball.  Everyone has a story, a background, and it’s my job to get them to tell it to me without using emojis.  Every once in awhile, a kid’s character will stand out among all others.  Deandre Thomas was one of these exceptions.

The first time play I saw Deandre play was during our tryout games during camp.  Tryout games always take place the first day of camp immediately after sign-in.  They’re only timed, and have no scorekeeper.  Deandre was on the bench at the time, and one of his teammates made a good play, not a crazy play, but good, and he got everyone up off the bench to cheer like they had just won a state championship.

Deandre Thomas is clearly a gifted scorer.  He puts pressure on the defense the entire game, and attacks the basket unlike anyone else I have seen at camp. His natural ability makes him stand out. What sets him apart though, is nothing basketball related.  He plays the game with a cheerful enthusiasm and respect that’s contagious for teammates and makes him extremely fun to watch.

Near the end of the interview I found out what shaped him to person he is today.  Both of Deandre’s parents have been officers in the United States Air Force from the time he was born.  Their no nonsense attitude and firm upbringing appeared throughout our talk in the form of “yes-sirs” and “thank yous”.  Here are the top ten responses from our brief Q & A session.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy the interview as much as I did.

Q: How was your first day at Hoop Group?

A: It was good…got a chance to feel out how the camp will be.

Q: If you had compare your game to one music album, what would it be?

A: Nothing Was The Same-Drake,

Q: If you had to play your favorite player 1v1, you’re wearing flip-flops & they’re wearing roller skates, who wins?

A: Me, he’s wearing rollerskates cannot guard me.  I’d be scared he might roll over my toe though.

Q: You’re making a 3 on 3 basketball team using only super heroes or cartoon characters, who do you take?

A: Superman, Hulk, Green Lantern.

Q: What’s the most important thing you look for in recruiting?

                     “If someone wants me. I’m not worried about name. I want to go to a school that I would choose even if I was not playing basketball.”

 

           Q: How many 5 year olds could you fight before you lost?

           A: I’d never fight a five year old…but if I had to 1000.  The first 200 i’m knocking out one punch.

           Q: Who has been the most influential person in your life thus far?

           A: My dad for sure.  He came from nothing. Grew up in the projects in Brooklyn.  We started off in a one bedroom apartment now we have a five bedroom house.

           Q: What is your dream college?

           A: Syracuse.  I like Jim Boeheim, but he probably won’t be coaching by the time it’s time for me to play.

           Q: What do you hope to gain from Hoop Group Academic Elite Camp?

            A: I want to learn different ways I can come off ball screens.  I want to get better at making the right reads so I can make plays for others.

           Q: What motivates you strive for greatness in athletics?

           A: My Grandmother.  She wants to go to Hawaii before she passes and I’m going to get her there.

Isaiah Briscoe: Destined to be Elite from Day One


For the past few years, Isaiah Briscoe has been regarded as the best point guard in the class of 2015. ESPN.com has ranked him the 13th best player in the country and Rivals.com has him as high as nine in their ranking. Tomorrow, Briscoe will announce his college commitment on national television. After listening to the countless pitches and carefully evaluating every program, the list has been narrowed down to Kentucky, St. John’s and Connecticut.

Isaiah Briscoe was an all-star at Future All-American Camp before he even took a high school class

Isaiah Briscoe was an all-star at Future All-American Camp before he even took a high school class

Briscoe, who started his high school career at St. Benedict’s Prep before transferring to Roselle Catholic, averaged 22 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and nearly 2 steals a game for the Lions last season. With the start of the 2014-15 high school season quickly approaching, Briscoe gets set to help lead a talented Roselle team on a State Championship run. Many have their guesses as to where the New Jersey guard will land, but only one thing is for sure: we know where he came from.

Before the scholarship offers piled up, before countless days were spent traveling from AAU event to AAU event, Briscoe was a budding star at Hoop Group Future All-American Camp. Only a rising freshman at camp, the point guard was not shy to admit that even at an early age, he felt he can bring a little bit of everything to the table for a team, and he’s not wrong. The point guard is a terrific scorer and possesses a good shooting touch. He makes those around him better, dropping crisp, on time passes for assists; he’s even increased his presence in the rebounding department. As a 14 year old at camp, he particularly impressed with his ability to distribute the basketball and deliver passes with both hands, as well as get to the hoop and score.

A New Jersey State Championship is the goal for Briscoe and his talented Roselle Catholic teammates this season.

A New Jersey State Championship is the goal for Briscoe and his talented Roselle Catholic teammates this season.

You could tell from an early age that Isiah Briscoe was destined for big things on the hardwood. Playing for the New Jersey Playaz AAU program, Briscoe played for their 17U team as a rising freshman. Competing alongside other great NJ guards, like former Hoop Grouper and now San Antonio Spur, Kyle Anderson, Briscoe was able to learn lessons and gain experience that very few players his age get the chance to do. “I take a lot of stuff from Kyle’s game,” Briscoe said. “I look up to him like a big brother. Every time he’s playing I always want to watch him play so I can help my game.”

His game certainly has skyrocketed to another level since Future All-American Camp, and at 6:00 pm EST tomorrow, he will become a prize recruit in one coach’s recruiting class. The question on everyone’s minds right now is which school that will be. Will he choose the defending National Champion Connecticut Huskies? Will he become the newest piece to another powerhouse recruiting class for Kentucky? Or will he opt to stay close to home and represent New York City with St. John’s? As the hype and speculation continues to mount, one thing is for certain: no matter what school he chooses, Isaiah Briscoe will be the most recent Hoop Group Alum to achieve his basketball dream.

Hoop Group Alumni Nwankwo Chooses Golden Gophers

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NEPTUNE, NJ-  In early September, Hoop Group Alumni Jonathan Nwankwo committed to attend the University of Minnesota next year while on his visit to the school. Physically, Nwankwo is ready for the next level. He’s 6’9 and has a strong build, making him a presence inside. He’s a good defender and rebounder around the rim and offensively, he can  finish with a nice touch. We saw a lot of the Minnesota bound senior at Hoop Group Elite Camp this summer with his high school teammate, Peter Kiss. Here are  their highlights from Academic Elite session one.

Before putting on the maroon and gold for Minnesota, Nwanwko will play his senior season at Victory Rock Prep in Bradenton, Florida after playing at Monsignor Scanlan High School for three years. Nwankwo is excited for the opportunities that Victory Rock can provide him with and he believes the school will help make him a better player and get him ready for college. I sat down with Jonathan this summer and discussed his recruiting process at the time as well as the move down to Florida.

Last month Jonathan joined a hearty list of Hoop Group Alumni who have committed to play Division 1 basketball. The University of Minnesota has landed themselves a big man with a lot of upside. We wish the best of luck to Jonathan both this year and when he steps onto campus at Minnesota.

HG Alum Commits: Adam Pickett Chooses Winthrop

The last time we saw Adam Pickett, he was playing in a gym packed with college coaches at Hoop Group Elite Camp. The 6’1 senior showed an ability to run the point guard position and appeared to be very comfortable with the ball in his hands. The long lefty also showed a tremendous ability to slash to the rim and finish in a variety of ways. He drew a lot of attention during the week of camp and finished as an NBA East All-Star.

Fast forward a couple of months and the Hoop Group Alumni has now committed to play basketball at Winthrop University. Pickett will be joining a team that finished 20-13 a season ago and made it all the way to the Big South Conference Championship game. The team looks to build on last season’s success this upcoming year as Pickett looks to end his high school career with a strong senior season.

While he may have accomplished his goal of playing Division 1 basketball, Adam knows his game is not a finished product. He continues to work on enhancing his skills every single day. In the summer, he mentioned that one of his goals was to improve his jump shot, which could make him a terror to guard defensively.

We had a chance to sit down with Adam during Elite Camp and talk to him. We talked about his camp experience, where his recruiting process was at the time, even NBA free agency! You can see that full interview right here:

Hoop Group would like to wish Adam the best of luck as he begins his senior year, and continued success both in the classroom and on the hardwood when he heads to Winthrop in the fall of 2015!

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