Boys basketball: Staying home right call for Trojan’s Chris Palombizio
By Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org witter:@MikeHuttonPT November 23, 2013 8:56PM
Chesterton's Chris Palombizio works on a dribbling drill during practice on Monday, November 18, 2013. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 25, 2013 6:50AM
CHESTERTON —Coaches know what they have. They are fans, too.
They stay alive, through the dog days of winter, when their teams are down, through the inevitable seasonal personality affective disorder that comes with losing, because of that one season.
That one year or that one stretch when they can look forward to a great group of players.
That one opportunity, in that one window of time, when they believe they can be great. That one chance to win a sectional or a regional or even go beyond that.
For some programs, those good teams ebb and flow over the years. For others, those opportunities might come along once or twice in a coach’s career.
This is the season, the two-year stretch that Chesterton coach Tom Peller was dreaming about four years ago.
Couldn’t wait for 2013-14. Couldn’t get here fast enough. Peller had those guys, that team, coming up the pipeline at his school. He’s a dreamer and a planner, too.
“Oh, yeah,” he said of the 2011 eighth grade class at Chesterton Middle School. “I watched ’em play. They were killing everybody. “
That class of five players —Ryan Fazekas, Matt Holba, Chris Palombizio, Avery Beeks and Cameron O’Brien — were undefeated in middle school. Didn’t lose a game. 42-0. They were destined for greatness. Steve Osburn, the eighth-grade basketball coach at Thomas Jefferson in Valparaiso, said they were the best middle school team he’d ever coached against in 30 years.
And then high school came along — and the dream team morphed into something different. They took the forks in the road that didn’t necessarily lead to Peller’s gym.
Fazekas decided to go to Michigan City Marquette. He recently announced he was attending Providence College to play basketball.
O’Brien decided to concentrate only on baseball.
After two seasons, Holba left, moving to Indianapolis to play at Guerin, a 2A school, after his father was transferred because of his job.
Beeks’ status for now is uncertain while he undergoes testing for a medical condition.
For a while, it looked like Palombizio was gone. Shortly after Holba left, Palombizio announced he was attending Trader’s Point for prep school.
It was a triple blow for Peller, who had experienced heartache three years earlier when Mitch McGary, a potential first-round NBA draft pick, decided to leave Chesterton after his junior year to go to prep school.
Palombizio changed his mind a month later. He returned. The turbulence might’ve been too much for a different coach.
But Peller has learned to be flexible. To not take the drifting around personally. To not dwell on what could’ve been too much.
“There are things out of my control,” he said. “If people want to leave, that is out of my control. Chris and his dad came to me and said, ‘Traders Point was the best place for him.’ I said, ‘Ok, if that is what you want.’ Holba’s dad got transferred because of his job. There are things you can’t control. It was a different offseason. My best player left and it looked like my second best player was going to leave. Sure, I was questioning myself and whether I was doing a good job but there are things I can’t control. I can’t go there. It’s a different world. Kids can go anywhere.”
And, that, in one long breath, is pretty much how Peller has learned to adapt to the needs of his players. There really is no choice for him, or any other coach, who faces the same dilemma.
In Palombizio’s case, the familiarity of home and Chesterton and the fact he’s an Indiana kid who has dreamed of winning a sectional title, helped him out.
Palombizio left because he thought prep school would be better for his future.
When he visited, he figured out it wasn’t at all better for the moment.
He didn’t like the thought of being away from his family and friends and his high school.
He reversed himself.
“I got caught up in getting college exposure and going to a prep school,” he said.
Palombizio changed his mind after a conversation with his father.
“One day, I was sitting with my dad and I told him I wanted to win a sectional. He said that if I went to prep school I wasn’t going to be able to play in a high school atmosphere. That winning a sectional was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s like they say, there is no place like home. I went there for a visit and it just didn’t feel right.”
Palmobizio has the potential to be a beast for the Trojans this year.
He has gained 20 pounds of muscle and he is two inches taller at 6-5.
He has a post game and he can score off the dribble — stuff that he hadn’t developed last year.
With Cole Teal, a senior, playing guard and Corey Rusboldt, another heady guard, back, the Trojans certainly seem like a team that could be good.
Jacob Wasielewski, a 6-6 inside player who took the year off last season, has returned. He should help ease the pain, somewhat, of Holba’s loss.
In Peller’s view, these guys have the potential to be very good. Not good like he envisioned when they were in seventh grade and they were demolishing the competition, but certainly a fun, coachable group of players that have a chance to do something special.
That’s all any coach can ask for these days.