By Joe Costa
Shortly after he arrived in Baltimore 12 years ago to teach chemistry at the McDonogh School, Tom Gizzi also took on the role of girls’ basketball coach at the private school in Owings Mills Maryland. He then proceeded to build a solid program that got not only his players noticed by college coaches but showcased his own talents as well. It wasn’t long before Gizzi became an assistant coach at Loyola University of Maryland.
By the time he left Loyola 3 seasons later his own children were beginning to play competitive sports. At this point Gizzi started surveying the landscape of Club / Travel Team basketball in Maryland. As a coach, he had always thought that the area was missing something. That “something” was a program in which the players were coached correctly, exposed to college coaches on the best stages in the top tournaments and at the same time properly prepared to build relationships with those recruiters.
A Philadelphian born and bred (He attended La Salle High School and played football at the University of Pennsylvania), Gizzi approached by Blue Star / USJN founder Mike Flynn with an idea. Well aware of the success and reputation of the Flynn’s high profile Philadelphia Belles program and after having done some recent collaboration with them, Gizzi formulated a plan for the “Maryland Belles” and presented it to Flynn.
The result is a three team (U15, U14 & U13) group of young ladies that have a bright future. Even though it’s early in their inaugural season, the Maryland Belles have already played their share of big time opponents including the likes of the Philadelphia Belles, Central Jersey Hawks and the Fairfax Stars. They’ve performed better each time they’ve taken the floor and thus far Grizzi seems pleased.
“We have only been together for a few weeks” he commented “We have played a lot early and now we will really to start teaching skill work as well as team concepts.”
Joe McAleer’s U13 is young and all are in either 6th or 7th grade. They’re athletic and still learning how to play together with a ways to go but the path is wide open for them. They have several up and comers like Aleah Nelson (5-5, Guard – Parkville, Md.), Makayla Daniels (5-5, Guard – Frederick, Md.) and Taylor Geiman (5-11, Forward – Glenville, Pa.). Gizzi believes this group has an unlimited future together.
Gizzi coaches the U14 group himself. He knew that when this group entered their 9th grade summer, they would need something more than what has become the “norm” for the area and that something more has become the Maryland Belles. The team is deep and loaded with potential. Kaila Jennings (5-7, Guard – Owings Mills Md.) is part of an up and coming, dynamic backcourt that includes Kayla Bacon (5-8, Guard – Owings Mills Md.) and Khyala Mitchell (5-6, Guard – Bel Air, Md.). Some size comes in the form of Chyna Latimer (5-11, Forward – Edgewood, Md.), Leah Gizzy (6-0, Guard – Finksburg, Md.) and Yasmin Lewis (5-9, Guard/Forward – Gwynn Oak, Md.). These anchors of a very versatile group provide plenty of options come game time.
This group is deep with even more talent forthcoming. We’re sure to be hearing more from them down the road and as a Blue Star Team the Belles will be at several USJN events throughout the coming spring and summer.
“Becoming a Blue Star team and being affiliated with the Philadelphia Belles afforded the group some of the key opportunities that have been missing in the Baltimore area”.
Gizzi says he wants the Maryland Belles program to provide quality coaching and be an advocate for all of its players. Considering that the Maryland Belles are young, talented, work hard and have parents “buying in”; you have to believe he might be onto a formula for success. Tom Gizzi demands that his groups to be chemistry makers, not chemistry breakers, but then, what else would you expect from a former Chemistry teacher?