One way or another, Brandon Lazzari has put in work to get himself near the game of basketball.
As a student at Tarpon Springs High from 2006-10, he served two years as a team manager, before fully making the squad his junior season.
After leaving high school for Florida State University in the fall of 2010, Lazzari's organized playing days may have ended, but his passion for the game kept him wanting more.
Once in Tallahassee, he found the opportunity he was seeking.
It took Lazzari a year to get his foot in the door, but as a sophomore he had worked his way back to the court — this time as a manager on the FSU men's basketball team. Three seasons and one Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship later, Lazzari is now nearing graduation as the head manager of an eight-man crew under Coach Leonard Hamilton.
“It's been a really interesting and neat experience for me because a lot of people want this position, especially at my age,” Lazzari said over the phone last week as the team prepared for its trip to New York City's Madison Square Garden, site of the National Invitational Tournament Final Four. “If you're not a player you have to get your foot in the door somehow, and it's a really blue-collar job.”
That job description includes a constant variety of tasks and responsibilities Lazzari and other managers must complete alongside their academic studies. Setting up practices, jumping in to grab rebounds, gathering data on potential recruits, drawing up play diagrams, coordinating with away teams on road trips — basically any and all behind-the-scenes activities that make a Division I basketball program run smoothly.
All the while, the hardcourt immersion allows Lazzari to soak in an overload of invaluable information during the pursuit of his ultimate dream: coaching college basketball.
“You put in a lot of hours and effort and usually don't get a lot of recognition,” he said. “But it's one of those things were you put a lot into it to get a lot out of it. The next step for me is I want to become a graduate assistant and continue down the path of possibly becoming a D-I assistant one day and coach.”
Not just all work, no play
While the rigors and demands of the position can be great, Lazzari has enjoyed enviable perks not often available to your ordinary college student.
Aside from all the up-close and behind-the-scenes basketball access, one of Lazzari's top experiences was a trip to Greece to play with and against the Greek national team.
“Overall it was a great experience,” he said. “That was just ironic to go from Tarpon Springs to Florida State basketball and end up with the team playing against the Greek national team. A lot of the guys were asking me things because I knew a lot about the food and the culture just from growing up in Tarpon Springs and having a lot of my old classmates and teammates being from Greece.”
Back in Tallahassee, Lazzari's status as head manager carries living-arrangement benefits, as well.
“I've been living with the team at the team lodging facility for two years now,” he said. “That's on scholarship through the athletic department since I'm head manager. That's really helped out my family financially not having to pay for housing while I'm up here for school.
“Plus I live with the guys,” he added. “It's interesting because my friends will come over and ask questions all the time and then my roommate's a 7-foot-3 guy (Boris Bojanovsky) who hits a game-winning shot the night before.”
Following FSU's Final Four run – the Seminoles fell in overtime to Minnesota 67-64 during Tuesday night's late semifinal – and his graduation this spring, Lazzari will seek graduate school and assistant possibilities, preferably in Tallahassee.
Away from the court, Lazzari is double-majoring in finance and marketing – a course selection made after a little deal-making with his father, Pete.
“I was going to go with sports management and take it easy and just do basketball,” Lazzari said. “But the deal was I get to go for my dream but I have to have solid backup plan instead. At first I was fighting him about it, but looking at it now it's not a bad situation to be in.”
So far, Plan A continues to look promising and it remains Lazzari's driving force.
“To me I've never seen anything else that's as exciting to me that's not only a job, but a lifestyle,” he said. “I really like being in the moment and being in the pressure situations and learning while in the fire. Hopefully one day I get the opportunity to do the same thing just at the higher coaching level.”