NEW PALESTINE — Maximus Gizzi reversed the basketball, then disappeared to the opposite side of the court. Eventually finding a temporary home on the left wing at Eastern Hancock, the New Palestine freshman waited for the play to develop. Receiving the ball from sophomore teammate Matthew True, Gizzi immediately, with his eyes up, looked for the open man.
Junior Harrison VanRhoon wasn’t technically open, but the gifted passer could anticipate what was about to come. Lobbing a perfectly thrown pass toward the right side of the rim, with a charging VanRhoon gathering momentum for a leap, Gizzi helped the Dragons complete an unexpected alley-oop in his first varsity game of the season.
The Dragons didn’t win the contest, a 61-51 defeat to the Royals, but New Palestine and head coach Trent Whitaker learned something in the second quarter that night.
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Freshman point guard Maximus Gizzi is going to be special — if not already.
Gizzi would finish his impressive varsity debut with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He was efficient, shooting 6 of 12 from the field and 3-for-4 from the foul line. Furthermore, the freshman supplied New Palestine with a reliable ball handler this season — and hopefully for many to come.
In 10 games this year, Gizzi is averaging a team-high 3.4 assists, which ranks second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. The 5-foot-11 rookie is also second on the team in scoring at 11.0 points per game and leads the Dragons in steals with 14.
“He makes everybody around him better,” Whitaker said, who is in his second season with the team. “He definitely gets (the players) the ball in scoring positions and is very unselfish.
“He plays fearless for a 15-year-old kid.”
And although Gizzi is the team’s leader on the floor, New Palestine has another point guard behind the scenes.
Leading by Example
New Palestine senior Samuel Voelz hasn’t played basketball since his freshman year of high school. Classmate and longtime friend Jalen Qualkinbush thought that needed to change.
Over the summer while shooting hoops at fellow senior Graham Biggs’ house, Qualkinbush, who is coincidentally interested in studying business in college, provided his best sales pitch to the long and lanky Voelz, a dedicated cross-country runner.
It didn’t take much convincing: “You should play basketball this year,” Qualkinbush said.
Fast forward nearly seven weeks into the season and the move is paying off for the Dragons. Voelz leads New Palestine in rebounding at 3.9 boards per game and is 12th overall in the HHC. He’s collected 18 rebounds in the team’s last two contests against Delta and Marshall.
Qualkinbush, the team’s leading rebounder for seven games this season, could have been selfish and never asked Voelz to play, thinking he could shoulder the burden himself. Instead, he looked to better the team.
And rather than feel the heat with a talented freshman controlling the game on the court, Qualkinbush has taken Gizzi under his wing as New Palestine’s (2-8) undeniable leader.
“On the floor a lot of times this year are younger kids, and (Qualkinbush) will blend in and just do whatever he needs to do,” Whitaker said. “He’s our glue guy.”
Qualkinbush is averaging a team-high 12.1 ppg this season and had a season-high 20 points in the loss to Eastern Hancock. As a junior, he averaged 7.7 points per game, which was second on the team with then-sophomore Gavin Hausz.
With the graduation of Duke Blackwell, Logan Duffy and Caleb VanderWal at the guard positions, New Palestine needed a point guard. Gizzi won the job.
Although their chemistry is strong now, Qualkinbush and Gizzi had never played together until this past summer. Qualkinbush remembers his first impression.
For anyone who knows the Gizzi family, their freshman son’s early success is not entirely shocking.
His mom, formerly Sarah Haynes, was an Indiana All-Star at New Palestine as a senior in 1994. His dad was certainly no slacker, either, and played professionally overseas for 12 years. Gizzi began showing up to his dad’s practices when he was 6-years-old.
Sarah and Mike Gizzi met while playing college ball at LaSalle University and are just two members of a big basketball family. Her brother played at Indiana State and Western Kentucky and both her parents coached in the sport. It was evident that their son, too, had taken a liking to basketball at an early age.
Recently, Gizzi has spent the last two summers playing for Indiana Elite against some of top kids in his class, nationally. It translated to the middle school level, where he once scored 36 points in a game.
Then came time for high school ball.
“He could really dribble,” Qualkinbush said, when asked about the first time playing with Gizzi.
But Gizzi didn’t get picked on the varsity side of the court during New Palestine’s first workout of the summer. Or the second. It took two practices to notice the newcomer’s bag of tricks, but it was Qualkinbush, Gizzi said, who first noticed his skills. He picked him to play on the varsity side.
“It kind of disappointed me (not getting picked),” Gizzi said. “So I said ‘I’m going to work as hard as I can in practice, maybe someone will notice.’ In the third practice, Jalen took me with the second pick. After that it was a normal thing.
“I felt like we worked really well together, just the whole team, and you could tell there was a little bit of chemistry there from the start.”
Similarly to Gizzi, Qualkinbush’s parents also got him started in the sport when he was younger. He tried soccer, playing for his cousin Justin Sass at New Palestine as a junior, and in youth league, but decided to stick with what he knows best — hoops. He’s been dedicated to the sport since he started with the program in the seventh grade.
As one of only three seniors on this year’s team, Qualkinbush and Biggs are the only two players from their class to stick with the sport all through middle school and high school.
“He’s never let that get to him,” Whitaker said. “He is just a competitor.”
After his junior season, Qualkinbush, who knew his role would increase going into his senior year, took the reins of the program without hesitation.
Not only has he helped with the development of Voelz and Gizzi, Qualkinbush has transformed his game and body in just a year’s time.
Over the summer, while working out in the weight room with Sass, Qualkinbush added 20 pounds of muscle to an already athletic frame. Now, the 6-1, left-handed slasher is finishing with confidence around the basket and is holding his own against larger players.
Qualkinbush was the player that set the screen for VanRhoon on the alley-oop, which was just implemented that morning during the team’s shoot-around. When the ball went through the net, the senior raised his arms in celebration while sprinting back on defense.
Just like he is for Gizzi, Qualkinbush was just as happy for his teammate for throwing down a dunk as he did the dirty work by setting the screen. That attitude, said Whitaker, is exactly what a team needs out of its floor general behind the scenes.
Gizzi, who said he wouldn’t be as comfortable without the senior leader, couldn’t agree more.
“Not only is he verbal, but he leads by example,” Gizzi said. “He always goes hard and accepts everybody. He never puts you down and tells you to ‘keep your head up’ and ‘next play.’
“He took me under his wing, along with Voelz, Biggs and the juniors, and ever since then it’s been great.”
Position: Point Guard
Stats: 11.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.4 spg
Favorite College Team: Duke
Stats: 12.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.4 spg
Favorite College Team: North Carolina