Magic Max and the Schmarzo Swish
In this modern day and age when athletes are making tens of millions of dollars a year, it can seem that they are indeed playing for the money and that they are disingenuous when they tell us they are “playing for the love of the game.” Seven and eight figure salaries can cloud the passion that once gleamed brightly in an athlete’s eyes. In our technology addicted world, kids are more likely to be buying virtual farmland or pirating the latest hit single than organizing their own vacant lot baseball games or sweating out the summers pounding their Chuck Taylor’s on the blacktop. I If they do play sports, it is mostly likely in a well-organized and businesslike fashion, on a team with an email list and Facebook group. Those humid summer days playing non-preplanned basketball sometimes seem like a product of yesteryear.
Max Schmarzo (‘11), however, does play that way, for the love of the game. He believes that it’s the only way to play the game.
“The moments that I enjoyed most as a player are just pick up games on Saturday mornings,” Schmarzo said. “There’s no coach there watching you or a crowd there. It’s just you and the game.”
Basketball is practically in Schmarzo’s blood. He treats it more as a part of his life as opposed to just an activity he does. Schmarzo’s father, Bill, played college basketball at Coe College in central Iowa and brought his love of the game to his son. While Max was growing up, the Schmarzo family television would always showed basketball games or at least highlights. Schmarzo recalls his first memories of basketball from when he was a toddler.
“It’s always been in my family. I would go to my brother’s practices when I was about two or three and just sit there and watch,” Schmarzo said. “Ever since I can remember I have been dribbling a ball or shooting on a hoop.”
Growing up like this has allowed Schmarzo to go through an evolution of styles and mindsets that not only make him grow as a player, but also as a person. Now, if you ask anyone of Schmarzo’s teammates or coaches they will tell you the same thing.
“He’s the hardest working guy [and] he knows he’s a good shooter,” current Paly boys basketball Coach Adam Sax said. “He wants to be even better than that. He knows that if you work hard and practice, you can really improve.”
Longtime teammate TJ Braff (‘11) said. “Everything he’s gotten, he’s earned.”
But Schmarzo wasn’t always the hardworking player sprinting down the floor of Paly’s gym. While Schmarzo was in eighth grade, he went through a particularly lazy and apathetic phase of his basketball career. Now though, he reflects on his former self with reproachful hindsight.
“I was a very lazy basketball player,” Schmarzo said. “I didn’t play any defense or rebound the ball I just sat there on the outside and shot. I only thought about myself as a player. I had no work ethic at that age and obviously it showed on the court.”
Schmarzo declares this as the lowest point of his lifelong basketball career. Worse even than a knee injury that cost him the better part of his freshman season. Schmarzo had a congenital split in his knee cap which, as he grew steadily in size and strength became very painful, limiting the quickness and agility in his game and even preventing him from running.
“I was born injured,” Schmarzo said. “My knee cap was split and we didn’t know about it. Then as I grew and got stronger it started to hurt a lot. I had to have surgery to correct the problem.”
Many athletes would see this as a potentially career ending injury or at least enough to prevent one from being competitive, but Schmarzo sees it as a challenge–a blessing in disguise, which has actually helped his play instead of hurting it.
“I think it motivated me to be a better player because I realized I couldn’t be one dimensional,” Schmarzo said. “I was slower when I came back and I realized I couldn’t just sit back and shoot the ball. It made me an overall better player.”
Schmarzo’s knee injury created a situation in which he was forced out of listless eighth grade habits. In order to come back from the injury, Schmarzo spent countless hours in physical therapy, as well as in the weightroom. He is always focused on getting better, achieving the next goal. Davante Adams (‘11), Schmarzo’s teammate for an unprecedented eight years, understands that Schmarzo goes above and beyond what a normal player does.
“Basketball players usually just go to the gym and shoot and mess around, but Max spends a lot of time in the weight room in the summer,” Adams said. “And on top of that he’s still always shooting. He’s always looking to play. It shows he wants to get better. If you have that, that’s a big part of becoming an elite player.”
By all accounts, Schmarzo is an excellent high school basketball player. But he has always had aspirations for college athletics. In his youth, he aimed to play Division I basketball, but now he looks elsewhere. Schmarzo will mostly likely follow in his father’s footsteps and play at Coe College: a Division III school. Though some might resent being overlooked by big name schools, Schmarzo strives to stay positive in his outlook.
“I might not be a D I basketball player but I want to prove them all wrong: that I should’ve been. Could’ve been,” Schmarzo said.
Schmarzo’s love for the game influences his decision to play at the next level as well. He chuckles but then says emphatically.
“I have four more years left in my basketball career after Paly and I don’t want to spend three of them on the bench. I want to play.”