Antonio Rizzuto (above) committed to Albany out of a dozen offers on Saturday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Just a few years ago, around the turn of middle school into high school, Antonio Rizzuto would try to convince his older cousin of his abilities on the basketball court.
Jon Iati, a former standout at York Catholic and University at Albany and UA assistant coach since 2012, didn’t exactly bite.
“I always joked around with him, like ‘I really want to play Division I basketball, I really want to be good,’ I always told him how hard i’m working and stuff, and at the time he gave me ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, you have to be really good to play Division I,’” Rizzuto recalled. “At the time, I’m a freshman telling him this...he’s probably thinking ‘this kid, there’s no way.’”
Yet there Iati was last summer, watching his younger cousin (by 15 years) tear up the courts for the York Ballers during the July live recruiting periods; by the time Rizzuto was entering his junior season at Northeastern York (Pa.) High School he held a scholarship offer from the Great Danes.
Over the course of the 12 months that followed, Rizzuto racked up nearly a dozen more offers, including one from St. Joe’s last week, joining a group that included Stony Brook, High Point, Mount St. Mary’s and Boston U.
All along, the first one was all he needed. After talking over his recruitment over the week following this summer’s recruiting window, Rizzuto made it official and committed to Albany on Saturday evening, picking the America East powerhouse over St. Joe’s and Stony Brook.
“I want to go to school where they’ve got a winning program, and all three schools that I just listed have a winning program, but I also want to go to school where, God forbid, something happens to me, I can’t play, I want to go to a place where I’m going to love it,” he said. “They have a great city there, great people, great stuff to do. I can see myself there all four years. There’s a lot of ‘what ifs’ at the other schools, so that’s just why.”
“And I didn’t want to wait anymore, it was just killing me,” he added with a laugh.
Rizzuto is the first commit for head coach Will Brown and Albany for the Class of 2018. This past season, Brown’s 15th full year as head coach, Albany went 21-14, the program’s fourth 20-win season in five years.
In Rizzuto, Brown is getting an athletic 6-3 guard whose best asset is his ability to shoot the ball from deep.
As a junior, Rizzuto hit 83 triples, boosting him to a 19 ppg average; along with point guard Fred Mulbah, he was a major reason the Bobcats won 30 games, the York-Adams League and District 3 5A tournament for the first time and advanced all the way to the PIAA semifinals.
Albany doesn’t take a ton of 3-pointers as a team, but the few players on the Great Danes with a green light do so efficiently: the Great Danes made 37.2 percent of their 3s last year, good enough for 72nd in Division I.
When Rizzuto gets on campus, he’ll get to learn from current juniors David Nichols (17.9 ppg, 51 3s) and Joe Cremo (15.8 ppg, 50 3s), who will be seniors next year.
Though Rizzuto said he wants to work on bringing his ball-handling and rim-attacking abilities up more before he gets to college, he has no doubt about what his role will be for four years.
“I’m going to be a ‘2’ in college,” he said. “I’m going to be the guy they kick out to to knock down the ‘3.’”
The Northeastern rising senior has a healthy reputation to live up to through his family connection, though his name might not make it so obvious.
Jon Iati, who played at Albany from 2003-08, scored 1,142 points in a Great Danes uniform and helped the team to NCAA tournament appearances in both 2006 and 2007. His younger brother, Jacob Iati, played three seasons at UA (2010-2013) after spending his freshman year at High Point; his senior year, the Great Danes made their first of three straight March Madnesses.
“(Brown) said [about] my cousin Jacob, when he left Albany, he said ‘are there any more Iati’s coming,’ because the brothers both got rings, both went to the NCAA tournament, and Jacob said ‘no,’” Rizzuto said. “But when I said I’d like to go to Albany, commit to Albany, I told (Brown) I’m the next thing -- I’m not an Iati, but I’m a Rizzuto.
“We all have something in common, we work really hard,” he continued. “If I don’t have a good game, one thing I’m always going to do is work harder than everyone else.”
Iati is prevented from commenting on his cousin’s commitment by NCAA regulations until Rizzuto signs his binding National Letter of Intent in November.
Rizzuto said because of their age difference, he and Iati hadn’t been able to spend too much time together outside of the holidays. A year from now, they’ll be around each other constantly.
“It’s something with comfort, going to Albany now, there’s a comfort...having someone there to get my back with the schoolwork or whatever I need help with,” Rizzuto said, making sure to add: “he’s going to be my coach, he’s not going to be my cousin on the floor; he’s going to treat me the same as all the players, and people have got to know that.”