When scholarship offers from the biggest names in men’s college basketball started to roll his way, Angelo Brizzi was as surprised as anyone.
“When I was a freshman, my goal was to play at a really smart D3 school, like Carnegie Mellon or MIT, someplace like that,” said Brizzi, the 2021 Fauquier Times Highland School Boys Athlete of the Year.
Brizzi, a 6-foot-4 left-handed point guard with a deadly outside shot, eventually made Villanova University his selection. He racked up perhaps the most impressive collegiate offer list of any boys hoopster in Fauquier County history, and turned down offers from Michigan, Virginia, Arizona and a host of other top-tier programs.
Brizzi has lived in Fauquier since third grade, when his family relocated to Warrenton from Gainesville. He’s been a dedicated athlete his entire young life, playing soccer, football, and baseball, and even swimming for the Warrenton-based Brookside Hurricanes of the Prince William Swim League until he was a high school sophomore.
“Swimming is my best natural sport,” said Brizzi, whose best stroke was the butterfly. His mother Carolyn was a high school swimmer, and sister Camilla swam in college.
“I think swimming is great for your body,” he said. “If I had done that full-time, I think I would’ve been a monster.”
Brizzi also enjoyed playing soccer, baseball, and football as a kid. But he’s had the most success on the hardwood. “Basketball was just the most fun for me. I was pretty good at it and I enjoyed working at it,” Brizzi said. “It was something I could see myself going forward with.”
A miniature hoop stood in the sunroom of the Brizzi home, inviting a toddling Angelo to learn the basics. And he did.
He kept learning as he entered the youth Gainesville Basketball Association, then the Warrenton Youth Sports Club after the Brizzis moved.
Angelo had a good live-in teacher. Dad Pat was the head coach at then-Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas for an 18-season run ending in 1998.
“He’s been the biggest influence along the way,” said Brizzi of his father. “My dad was big on making sure I had the skills to dribble and pass and shoot.”
Brizzi noted all the road trips to distant tournaments that he and his father made together over the years. “I owe almost everything to him,” he continued.
Brizzi advanced to middle school, where another family member helped his development even more. His uncle Wayne was the longtime head coach at Fauquier High School, concluding a 27-year tenure after last season.
“He let me practice with the high school team when I was in seventh grade,” Brizzi said. “That was the first time I went up against older guys, bigger bodies. There were days they’d kick my butt, but I had to find a way to hang. That was really important to me.”
By his freshman season, he was ready for high school ball. Brizzi, a natural left-hander, ran point for the Falcons, scoring nearly 500 points and dishing nearly 100 assists to earn second-team all-region honors in 2018.
For both academic and athletic reasons, Brizzi transferred two miles away to private Highland for his sophomore year. The move became a boon for player and team both.
Over the next three seasons, Brizzi averaged 19.1 points, 5.3 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game, while nailing 155 3-pointers. He finished with 1,336 career points.
“One of his most impressive accomplishments that shows his all-around game,” said Highland head coach Brian Hooker, “was the fact that he was our second-leading rebounder all three years while being a point guard.”
Those stats helped the Hawks achieve new heights in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association. Highland went 64-11 over Brizzi’s three seasons, making it to the state tournament’s semifinals twice, and reaching the No. 2 ranking in both 2020 and 2021.
“Angelo was an extremely skilled high school basketball player,” Hooker said. “He is a scoring point guard who has tremendous shooting range but also has great court vision.”
Brizzi’s junior year was a record-setting one for the Hawks. Despite just two returners on the roster, Highland went 28-3 and made the state semis for the first time ever. Brizzi rang up 20.3 points and 6.6 assists per contest, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the Delaney Athletic Conference.
“We should have won that game,” said Brizzi of that semifinal in 2020. “We lost it in the end [to Norfolk Collegiate}, but we should have had a state title that year. But it was a great year, for both me and the team.”
Brizzi said it’s a point of pride that he helped Highland go further than it had ever gone before.
“I stayed at Highland because I wanted to take us to a final four and to a championship,” he said. “I didn’t get the ring, but doing something we’d never done before is a great memory.”
His senior season was diminished by the pandemic, limiting Highland to just 11 games, winning 10. Brizzi played in nine, scoring 21.6 points and 7.1 assists per game, repeating as league MVP and collecting his second VISAA first-team all-state pick.
Again the Hawks made states and advanced to the semis, but a positive COVID test forced Highland to forfeit and bow out of the tournament, leaving their final record at 10-2.
On the AAU circuit
In sixth grade, Brizzi joined the local Amateur Athletic Union program, the Fauquier Xplosion. He dominated the local kids for two years, then challenged himself by joining Team Loaded, a bigger AAU program based in Richmond.
“I thought I was pretty good, but that experience humbled me,” he said. “It was really bad at first. I got my butt kicked by kids my age. But I slowly figured things out and got better.”
As he got better, it began to dawn on Brizzi that college basketball might be possible. But he didn’t yet see himself at the highest level.
At the same time he transferred to Highland, Brizzi also switched AAU programs, landing with the Baltimore Basketball Club. For two summers, he traveled to Boston, Dallas, and other cities to compete against some of the best high school-age competition in the country. Usually, he was on the winning side.
“Those were probably my two most important summers where I developed the most. Two most fun summers as well,” he said. “Our team was really good both years. We just counted the losses. No idea how many wins we had.”
The Baltimore program folded, so Brizzi was invited to join Charlotte-based Team Curry, a program sponsored by NBA all-star Stephen Curry, for the summer of 2020. Despite being limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, he played in tournaments in South Carolina and Georgia.
“That was still a good summer,” he said.
Pick of colleges
It was his first summer in Baltimore when Brizzi realized his sights could be set higher.
“George Washington University reached out to me and had me visit a couple of times,” he said. “That’s when I thought Division 1 might be possible. But I didn’t know I was Villanova-good until they offered me.”
Offers from Davidson, Northwestern, Dartmouth, Virginia Tech, Yale, Wake Forest, and dozens of others came streaming in, 33 in total. Villanova, Brizzi said, was “the first big one to offer.”
That came in April of 2020. He committed to the Wildcats that July, and is now a full-fledged member of Jay Wright’s program.
“I had a bunch of low- and mid-major offers and I was more than happy with those, so everything else was just icing on the cake. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Currently, Brizzi is getting used to being a college athlete. After spending June and July on campus for workouts and classes, one difference stands out.
“I knew the physicality was going to be tough, but it still caught me off guard,” he said. “Every day is a battle, bodies banging against each other. Everybody’s strong and knows how to be physical. That’s a big jump. I’m still adjusting to it. But I’d say I’m integrated to the point where I’m just learning the specifics of Villanova basketball.”
Brizzi’s goals for his freshman season is to get physically stronger and to continue to learn finer points.
“We already have some really good guards, and I’m a nobody compared to them, so it’s about learning as much as possible. Be a sponge,” he said. “I just want to be part of a great team and contribute however I can.”
Given the availability of major college basketball on TV, Brizzi could be seen frequently and bring glory to Warrenton.
“It definitely means something, because nobody else [from Fauquier] has been in this position since Jerrelle Benimon, and that was 12 years ago,” Brizzi said. Benimon graduated from Fauquier in 2009 and played at Georgetown and Towson,and made the NBA briefly before playing professionally overseas.
“But if I can cause one kid in the area to take up basketball, that’s enough,” Brizzi said. “It’d be great to inspire some of the kids in the area.”