Isaiah Alonzo never had a hard time being noticed.
In fact, he was always going to be noticed whether he liked it or not.
Currently standing at 6’10, Alonzo was almost always the tallest kid in the room growing up, so he didn’t have to do much— anything, really— for people to pay attention to him.
Whether it was walking through school hallways, or the airport, Alonzo’s height made it impossible to hide.
“Everyone knew me,” he said, “so I guess that was a good thing.”
Of course, being tall has its drawbacks [not that this 5’5 reporter would know]. Alonzo always had to make sure he didn’t smack his head off something when walking into a room.
One benefit to being 6’10, however, has been basketball.
Alonzo is currently the tallest player in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, and recently finished up a solid first season statistically, averaging more than 14 points and seven rebounds a night. But Alonzo’s uniqueness isn’t limited to his figure. His journey to Waynesburg is also unique, because he found Greene County after growing up in the desert.
Coast to coast
Alonzo is from Chandler, Arizona, near Phoenix. Waynesburg coach Tim Fusina discovered him at a high school tournament in Vegas. He pursued Alonzo near Los Angeles, where he was coaching at California Lutheran University at the time, and ultimately, recruited him to play basketball in Southwestern Pennsylvania. So Alonzo has experience with both urban and rural America.
The seeds of how he ended up in little Greene County were planted in Sin City. When Alonzo was a senior in high school, Fusina and his assistant, A.J. Uhl, saw him playing in a tournament, and were impressed enough to want him to play at Cal Lutheran, Alonzo didn’t go to Cal Lutheran, and instead enrolled in a community college.
After a year, he was ready to join Fusina and Uhl near Tinseltown. Then, Fusina got the job at Waynesburg in July, and brought Uhl with him.
Almost instantly, they knew they wanted to take Alonzo with them. Both he and Uhl talked to Alonzo, and were able to convince him to move from a humid, sticky and vibrant Phoenix to Waynesburg, where it just so happens to snow on occasion.
“I just liked the school and the family feel to it,” Alonzo said.
Not your average big man
The common perception— and a fair one at that — is that basketball players that are at or around Alonzo’s height are one dimensional.
The plan for big men is to get the ball to them in the low post, and hope they either score or get fouled. Alonzo, however, is much more versatile than what his stature indicates.
“I’ve been in this league— this is my first year as a head coach, but I’ve been five years as an assistant— and there hasn’t been anybody in this league in the time that I’ve been in the PAC that has that skill set,” Fusina said.
Alonzo is capable of playing like a traditional big man, but there are a lot of things the sophomore can do. He’s capable of shooting from outside, which was his forte back in high school.
Perhaps the most striking difference between Alonzo and others his size is in foul shooting, where he finished third in the PAC in free-throw percentage at over 80%.
“I used to be a lot heavier and a lot slower,” he said. “So I’m like ‘I have to be able to shoot free throws if I’m going to be tall and heavy and slower.'”
Part of the reason Alonzo is multi-faceted is because his game has experienced a significant evolution. When he graduated high school, he weighed 265 pounds. Yet, he described himself as a man who specialized in three-point shooting and passing. Now, he weighs 215, and feels that his game is more well-rounded.
“I have worked on every part of my game, and I feel like I have turned into a very versatile player,” he said.
Alonso’s versatility, however, creates a challenge on how to coach him. Fusina said he and Uhl have to tell him where he is best suited.
“Sometimes we have to remind him where he’s best, and that’s from the paint,” he said.
A star in the making?
Alonzo is far from perfect, and he knows it, listing a plethora of areas he can improve on.
“Defense in the post”
“My three point shot”
“I turn the ball over a lot”
“Finishing on the inside”
“My whole game, everything needs to be worked on,” he said. “I feel like nothing can be at its absolute peak.”
Indeed, Alonzo’s first season at Waynesburg had its valleys, such as Feb. 12 at Washington & Jefferson. On this night, Alonzo’s foul-shooting betrayed him. He shot just 2-8 from the arc in a six point loss.
But there have also been peaks, the latest coming in last Saturday’s regular season finale against Bethany, where he scored 25 points and grabbed nine boards.
Alonzo knows there is a lot of work to be done over the next two years, and hopes to get his game to the point where he can play professionally somewhere, which could possibly lead to an even longer move, this one overseas.
Fusina knows that if Waynesburg becomes a championship program in the near future, Alonzo will be at the center of that turnaround.
“I think Isaiah has the potential to not only be on an All-PAC first team , but also the player of the year at some point…,” he said. “I think that also has to do with your team’s success. We will be successful as a team, and he’ll be a big part of that.”