Agnus Berenato appears to be a tailor in her spare time.
The University of Pittsburgh women’s basketball coach has used one or two minutes each week trying to fit walk-on Bri Brizzi
for a letterman jacket. She’s done so by increasing Brizzi’s playing time.
Pitt players are required to play in at least half of the Panthers’ games to earn that garment, said Brizzi, a 2011 Fauquier High graduate
. She is on pace to reach that mark despite not being part of Berenato’s regular 10-woman rotation.
Brizzi’s main value to Pitt has been as a practice player, but she has participated in 10 of the Panthers’ 20 games this season, typically during the closing moments when the outcome has already been decided. The sophomore has been on the court for 17 minutes in those 20 games after logging only nine minutes over five games during the 2011-12 season.
“This year it happens more than last year because Coach B is the bomb,” Brizzi said. “Most coaches would never do that, but she takes it upon herself to go the extra mile for us as walk-ons. It's amazing. She's really great.”
That feeling seems mutual. Many walk-ons survive only one season in a basketball program, but the Pitt coaching staff welcomed Brizzi back for a second. That's a testament to her attitude, drive and charisma.
“I didn't really know what was going to happen this year,” she said. “I just had a blast last year. They could tell. … I think I just got lucky with the coaching staff” forming a bond.
Beyond minutes played, Brizzi’s statistical line is sparse. She’s committed two personal fouls and recorded one steal against Siena on Nov. 13. She has yet to score any points.
“Hopefully soon,” she said.
Brizzi got her latest playing time Saturday against Georgetown with her parents Wayne and Polly in the stands of McDonough Arena in Washington D.C. She played the final 44.7 seconds after a Panthers’ rally fell short.
Pittsburgh went on a 20-8 run beginning midway through the second half and narrowed its deficit to 65-55 with 1:42 remaining in the fourth, but never got closer. The Panthers (9-11 overall, 0-7 Big East) couldn't contend with Georgetown’s trapping zone defense or Sugar Rodgers' 25 points and nine assists.
“We struggled in the first half today, but then you saw at the end of the game, we looked like a completely different team,” Brizzi said. “I play with them every day at practice. I see how good we are.”
“That's what's the most fun for me, when I see my teammates doing well,” she said.
For example, on Jan. 23, Pitt led No. 2-ranked Notre Dame, 25-22, 12 minutes in to the first half.
“It was so fun to just watch them succeed,” Brizzi said, “and to be part of that at this level” of Division I basketball.
Pittsburgh, however, eventually lost to Notre Dame, 73-47. Brizzi played about two minutes at the end of that game after watching most of the action from her seat near the end of the bench next to fellow walk-on Bridget Higgins.
Brizzi contributes most to the team during practices. She and Higgins often join three male players to make up a practice unit that faces off against the rest of the Panthers.
“Obviously I miss” playing significant minutes in games, Brizzi said. “But the practices are like my games now.
“Every drill, it's really competitive,” she said. “We're fighting like it's a real game, and that helps us get better and then that makes the team better.”
Brizzi has also enjoyed the travel involved in playing Division I basketball. Along with typical Big East road games, the Panthers have made extended trips to Mexico, Chicago and New York.
“We're focused on the games, but Coach B always makes a point to make sure we get the experience of whatever place we are,” Brizzi said. “There are so many unique places that we get to go to. She doesn't just keep us in the gym or motel, which is really cool.”
/ On Twitter @jeffmalmgren
So you are recycling the article from last year, only this time with more of a focus on lack of playing time/stats/meaningful minutes/anything negative. Hard to believe newspapers are going out of business, must be the bad economy.