Chip off the old block

Mike Iuzzolino, the son, making name for himself

By Neil Rudel

nrudel@altoonamirror.com

ike Iuzzolino will be playing at the Altoona Fieldhouse tonight.

The son, that is.

Iuzzolino, whose father Mike was a standout for the Mountain Lions in the mid-1980s before embarking on a 10-year professional career that included two seasons with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, is forging his own identity as a junior guard with North Allegheny of the WPIAL.

Young Iuzzolino was a jayvee player two years ago when the teams met here but has now grown into the team’s leading scorer at 15 points per game and averages 45 percent from 3-point range.

At 6-foot-1, he’s a bit lankier than his dad, who was 5-11, but observers say he has a similar outside shot and the same deep passion for the game.

“He is a complete gym rat and the hardest worker we have on the team,” North Allegheny coach Keith Noftz said. “His father has had a great influence on him, especially in the area of what it takes to be a great player. When an area of his game needs some attention, their solution is to get in the gym and go to work. He has been a great example for his son.”

An assistant coach at Robert Morris, Iuzzolino acknowledged inevitable comparisons but tries to deflect them.

“When you have a dad who played in the NBA, there’s always a lot of pressure,” he said. “I’ve tried to stress to him to be your own player and create your own identity.”

His son has taken that to heart.

“When people who saw my dad’s game see me, they always say we play a lot alike,” he said. “But I’m trying to make my own path.”

Altoona coach Doug West was a high school teammate with Iuzzolino on the 27-1 juggernaut that advanced to the 1985 western final. The two later coached together on the Duquesne University women’s staff in 2005 and remain close friends.

When West first saw Iuzzolino’s son play, he said, “There’s Mike.”

“Same intensity, skilled, fundamentally sound player, shoots the ball, can play the one (point) or two (shooting guard),” West said. “When you’re coaching against your friends’ kids, or you see kids of guys you knew growing up, it’s different, but it’s fun. I know my son (Tyson, senior at Penn State Altoona) went through it. You don’t want to compare to the parents so I try not to. Even though when I saw him and (compared them), you want them to create their own identity.”

Iuzzolino (the dad) may not be able to make tonight’s game because of Robert Morris duties.

“Especially with my profession, sometimes you don’t get to spend a lot of time with your family because the coaching life is difficult,” he said. “But he’s here at Robert Morris a lot. A lot of our quality time is in the gym. That’s one of the nice things about it.”

He tries to balance coach and dad.

“After games, I always put my arm around him and say, ‘Do you want me to be the coach today or the dad today?’ The coach tells you the truth, and the dad just wants to make sure everything is OK. But for any father, it’s a joy to watch your son grow as a person and as a player.”

He would like to eventually play college basketball, adding, “My goal ever since I started playing is to play for my dad,” but said he’s keeping his options open as he pursues “being the best player I can be.”

Iuzzolino, whose season-high for the 12-8 Tigers was 28 points against Penn Trafford, has missed parts of the last two games with an ankle injury, but he’s eager to play at the fieldhouse.

He was born in Altoona, and his maternal grandparents, Bob and Carol Freet, still live here. His mother, Dana, and a number of family and friends will be on hand.

“It’s always special to come to Altoona,” he said.

His favorite place to play is Building II, where his dad honed his skills, and last summer, he played with many of the locals during a Saturday run at the Pleasant Valley Elementary outdoor courts.

“It was fun,” he said. “(Friends) Larry McAleer and Mike Luciano showed me where my dad grew up and all the places they played basketball. Took me to Luigettas. It was a great experience with all these guys still playing, telling me stories about my dad.”

Which is another reason he’s excited for tonight’s visit.

“I want to come back to Altoona and play in front of the people there,” he said. “Show the little Iuzzolino got a little bit of game, too.”

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