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.