NEW PALESTINE — Isabella Gizzi is used to looking up, but stature alone has never deterred her from reaching high.
Standing at 5-foot-7, the New Palestine junior point guard is the shortest in her immediate family. Her father, Mike Gizzi, a former professional basketball player, towers over everyone, at well over 6-feet, while her mother and New Palestine girls varsity head coach, Sarah Gizzi, is a few inches taller than her daughter at 5-9.
Isabella’s older brother, Maximus Gizzi, the all-time leading scorer in New Palestine boys basketball history, is listed at 6-1 on the Marian University men’s basketball roster where he’s spent the past two years.
Even Isabella’s younger brother, Julius, a freshman at New Palestine, is bigger at 6-3, but when it boils down to accomplishments on the basketball court, she’s a colossal giant with room to grow.
At a mere 88 points from tying her mother’s all-time career girls basketball scoring record set in 1994 at New Palestine High School, Isabella Gizzi continues to carve out her own legacy — with one more season left — as one of the Dragons’ best ever.
Part of her drive stems from within, but for the 2021-22 Daily Reporter All-Hancock County Girls Basketball Athlete of the Year, everything is rooted in family.
“It’s kind of the main focus for us all the time, but even it wasn’t basketball, we always talk about working hard in whatever sport you choose,” Isabella Gizzi said.
In 2021-22, Isabella Gizzi earned her second straight All-Hoosier Heritage Conference nod, broke the program’s single-game scoring record with 40 points this past November, and with 1,084 points amassed through three seasons, she’s on the verge of potentially besting another one of her mother’s big three achievements.
“When I’m working out, I think about it all the time,” Isabella Gizzi remarked on her mother’s 1,172 career points (1990-94). “I have my mom’s (record) written down, and then I had my brother’s written down. The main goal was to beat Maximus, but that’s extreme. That’s a big goal.”
Maximus set career records in points scored (1,612) and in assists and steals while leading the Dragons’ boys team to back-to-back sectional titles before graduating in 2020.
Sarah was an Indiana All-Star in 1994, the same year she set the girls scoring record and tallied a single-season best 468 points, a mark Isabella just missed this year at 451.
“Yeah, I know. Ugh!,” Isabella laughed.
Her 40-point performance in overtime at Southport Fieldhouse on Nov. 13, coincidentally the same venue where Maximus overtook the Dragons’ boys career-scoring record in 2019-20, broke her mother’s 28-year-old single-game mark at 36 points.
The plan for 2022-23 is to leapfrog her mother on the all-time list after becoming only the third 1,000-point scorer for New Palestine girls basketball, joining Raegan McMurray (1,081 from 2013-17).
“When I say I’m going to beat my mom’s record, Maximus always says, ‘Well, not mine. You’re still not the best.’ I just tell him, ‘OK,’” Isabella Gizzi joked. “Honestly, he would be the most proud of me, if I did, though, which is cool.”
A tight-knit family, Isabella initially considered a future in gymnastics and still plays volleyball competitively, but basketball is in her blood. Both of her parents competed at LaSalle University and her grandfather, Bruce Haynes, is a longtime high school coach with a previous stint at New Palestine before returning to assist his daughter, Sarah, in recent years.
While literally gazing upwards when pertaining her family’s hoops tradition, Isabella has taken a little piece from everyone, while fashioning herself into her own person and player.
“She does get a lot of attention. People know the name. They know that she’s a tenacious player, and she gets after it. She’s not going to back down from anybody, so unfortunately, sometimes she hears about it more than others, but I think it motivates her. It helps her be mentally strong,” Sarah Gizzi said. “It probably helps to raise her game a little bit more because she likes that competitive environment and it feeds her energy. Gives her a little more of an edge.”
In the offseason, Isabella sharpens her skills with the Indy Magic in the AAU circuit, but in her driveway with Maximus and Julius is where she discovered resilience as the shorter sister.
“Maximus saw that in Mike first hand, how to work hard, and Isabella has seen that in Maximus, so I think that’s been a really amazing way for her to see how to get where you want to be,” Sarah Gizzi said.
“I think, a lot of it comes from her watching Maximus and going to his games. I tell this story about when she was little. Back then, she wasn’t super interested in basketball, and we were at one of Maximus’ AAU games, and she was maybe in kindergarten or first grade, and she was coloring and looked up and she said, ‘He traveled!’ We go, ‘Oh, Ok, she’s been paying attention.’ She has looked up to him a lot, and he’s been a really great big brother to both Isabella and Julius and has been able to deliver a message to both of them through his hard work.”
Isabella had to put in more than she thought this past season for the Dragons, who finished 13-11 overall, after the program lost several key players to transfers and senior Anna Ackerman to a season-ending injury.
“I think the biggest blow to her as a teammate was when Annie (Ackerman) got hurt because they had kind of just gotten past the shock of the other girls leaving and had goals as a whole group. When she got hurt, I think, all of the girls felt like they had to step up, and Isabella was our top returner,” Sarah Gizzi said. “She naturally felt like she wanted to take some of that on and help the team as much as she could.”
The numbers prove she did with an increase in scoring from 345 points to 451, while her rebound total jumped to 125 from 112 and her steals moved up from 60 to 69. Her free-throw percentage elevated from 72 to 84 (174-for-206) and her points per game climbed to a career-best 20.5.
Known for driving the lane, Isabella made a concerted effort to become more of an all-around player as a junior, focusing on creating shots as team’s doubled down on her and feasting on defense.
“My mom warned me about (double teams), and I actually didn’t think it would be a big deal until they guarded me at the top of the key and did not let me catch the rest of the game this year. I think, there was one game earlier in the season where I shot maybe five times. My mom told me, ‘in order for us to win, you’re going to have to take more,’” Isabella Gizzi said. “I remember being so frustrated thinking, how is that supposed to happen?”
The answer was change.
“My grandpa is big on pull-up jumpers. He doesn’t like it when I ram into bigger girls and try to get fouls, so he’s always telling me to pull up before I get to them,” Isabella Gizzi said. “That’s what I worked on during the season. That was the main focus. He told me to pick my times to go all the way to the basket and when to pull up. Now, the defense doesn’t really know what I’m going to do. It’s good to have more options then just going left and hoping I get fouled.”
The result was 98 two-point field goals at 49 percent and fewer 3-pointers, which she saved for her teammates such as Alaina Miller and Allie Blum on the perimeter.
Playing hard without the ball became just as important as scoring points for Isabella.
“My dad always tells me to have a motor. It doesn’t matter if it’s scoring, steals, rebounds or talking. At least do something. People think that scoring is the most important, but my favorite thing is defense, so I wanted to see how many steals I could get,” Isabella Gizzi said. “I’m not that tall, but I realized you don’t have to be that tall to be able to rebound. It’s more of an effort thing. So, I just tried my hardest to do that, too.”
She didn’t necessarily shy away from scoring, however.
In 22 games played, Isabella Gizzi reached 20 points or more 13 times, surpassed 30 points a total of three times and through it all contended with minor ankle and back injuries in late December and early January.
“She’s grown through high school and as a little bit of a late bloomer, we’re still seeing room for improvement because she’s getting stronger and getting mentally tougher and maturing with her decision making and with her leadership. I’m hoping we can see another jump and improvement in those areas next year. That would be amazing,” Sarah Gizzi said.
Not as remarkable as when Sarah could potentially pass the all-time career scoring torch over to her daughter next season at mid-court, giving both of her children the individual titles at New Palestine.
“It’s super special. I remember when I was a little kid and people would always tell me that my mom was the record holder. I didn’t know if I was going to play as a freshman, and it seemed so hard. Even freshman year when I started, I thought, I only averaged 10, so I’m not going to get it,” Isabella Gizzi said. “Now, that I’m actually up there and second and could be and should be first, if things unfold, it’s really cool. There aren’t a lot of people who get a chance to do it.”
2021-22 Daily Reporter All-Hancock County Girls Basketball
Isabella Gizzi, New Palestine
Ellery Minch, Mt. Vernon
Grace Stapleton, Eastern Hancock
Chaney Brown, Greenfield-Central
Madison Swingle, Mt. Vernon
Shay Shipley, Mt. Vernon
Alaina Miller, New Palestine
Sammie Bolding, Eastern Hancock
Rachel Kelley, New Palestine
Ruby White, Eastern Hancock
Honorable Mentions: Eastern Hancock — Caroline Stapleton, Makenzie O’Neal, Emma Bolding; Greenfield-Central — Brooklyn McConnell, Josie White; Mt. Vernon — Khloe Patterson, Alaina Nugent; New Palestine — Allie Blum, Vivian Miller.