As a young child, Matthew Marzano would get up early and go watch his dad play in a basketball league with other local dads every Saturday morning. Marzano loved basketball since he started playing at 5 years old, but his real inspiration came from his dad. Marzano’s main way of connecting with his dad included getting shots up at the court across the street.
“I guess I thought it was pretty cool watching my dad play out there, and I just wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Marzano said.
This began an extraordinary adventure for Marzano, as he became the only underclassman on the varsity basketball team in 2017. While Marzano has played basketball for 12 years, he said that being on varsity as a sophomore was eye-opening.
“It was really cool to learn from and play against the seniors at that time,” Marzano said. “It was kind of like I was the little brother, and they were showing me the ropes.”
In his junior year and his second year on the team, Marzano was named captain.
“I didn’t really see it as a big deal because the team was just a group of friends,” Marzano said. “No one really thought they were above each other.”
Marzano said during his first two years at Paly, his training was more about gaining experience and playing in open gyms. Now, Marzano said he is focused more about getting in the weight room and trying to work on smaller details on the court.
Marzano said his main motivation has always been maintaining Paly’s tradition of success in basketball, like making the Central Coast Section tournament multiple years.
“I remember as a freshman watching the team win the CCS Championship versus Los Gatos, and I’ve always wanted to continue on with the legacy,” Marzano said.
Marzano said basketball has led to a lot of friendships in his life as well. One of those friends, senior Conner Lusk, said Marzano was a great captain last year because he was one of four returning varsity players.
“Since he had the opportunity to play with a CCS Championship-caliber team his sophomore season, he was able to let us juniors know the difficulty of becoming a great team and the sacrifices we would need in order to get there,” Lusk said.
Lusk also said Marzano is one of the best teammates he could ask for.
“Whether it’s explaining how to execute a play more efficiently, critiquing your footwork or bringing an ample amount of energy to any team function, Matthew will always push you to be the best version of yourself,” Lusk said. “He will always make the extra pass in order to find a teammate that is more open than him.”
According to Lusk, most of the players on the team look up to Marzano and see him as an outspoken leader.
“Most of our junior class has been playing together since middle school, and Matthew has always been the best player, so through the years he has always been the leader of our team whether it’s club or school basketball,” Lusk said.
It wasn’t just Lusk who noticed Marzano’s effect on the team. Marzano’s old coach, Rodney Tention, who became associate head coach at Cal Poly this year, was there when Marzano was a sophomore and junior on the team. Tention said Marzano’s leadership is both his key to being a good teammate and player.
“They knew what kind of player he was,” Tention said. “He just didn’t get to show it as a sophomore. But with the team last year, him being in that captain role and understanding how hard you need to play, the players followed him and they knew he was one of their key guys.”
Tention said Marzano’s captaincy all started during an exhibition game at the beginning of the year. There was no official captain at that time in the season, so Marzano stepped up to be the leader, for that game and for the rest of the season.
“He and Marvin Zhou (co-captain) took it upon themselves, and I would have done the same thing even if we hadn’t had a meeting or anything to go out there and represent,” Tention said. “I would have picked him as a captain anyway, so it was good that he showed leadership right then and there.”
During the season, Tention said he always told his players that if they performed and practiced well, they were going to have the opportunity to perform well in a game, and it could be that simple.
“It was about playing hard all the time,” Tention said. “I don’t care if they make mistakes. Those kids gravitated to that, and Marzano especially gravitated to that.”
Marzano said his journey to holding the role of captain was influenced by the discussions that Marzano and Tention would have while he was an underclassman on the team. They talked about what it takes to be successful in basketball later in life, as well as if Marzano wanted to play basketball in college. If that was something Marzano wanted to do, Tention would tell him how hard he would have to play and what his commitment has to be like.
Although Tention now lives in Southern California, he said he is still in touch with Marzano.
Tention said, “If they need anything, or just want to talk or vent, they are more than welcome to call me at anytime.”