As the Caledon Cougars walked off the court at halftime, down five, Izabella Zingaro is the lone player looking back at the score.
She’s visualizing the comeback – and sure enough her Caledon team comes from behind to win their final game of the regular season going to “Izzi” in the post repeatedly down the stretch, while she plays the entire game.
Zingaro has been a saviour for her Cougars in a tough OSBA league where every team is a challenge and her team’s bench has been limited to seven players all season.
“If I need a sub it would be just to get my thoughts together and [Coach] Gord knows when I need it,” says Zingaro.
She’s been big for this team in an up and down 2019-20 OSBA season. Everything has been big for the 6’3” centre – big minutes, big presence, big stats and soon big accolades.
Zingaro has put the ball in the bucket more times than anybody else in a star-studded OSBA league and finished third in points per game with 23.2 on an efficient 56%, just a fraction off the league best. The smooth-shooting lefty is also shooting 79% from the charity stripe and leads the league in rebounding with a whopping 15.2 per game and is top-5 in blocks.
It’s been somewhat of a breakout year for a player who already has played in a number of environments including the Targeted Athlete Strategy (TAS) program, Tall Player Project, Centre for Performance, MVP of the Naismith Camp, and the Canadian national team where she won a FIBA silver medal in the summer of 2019.
All of that led to a verbal commitment to Iowa State on Christmas Eve.
And she’s still in Grade 11.
“Every year she’s added something to her game and she’s a work in progress,” says her coach Gord Everett. “Any coach that comes in is going to want somebody they’re going to be able to continue to work with.”
“I chose Iowa State because they’ve been following me since I first started getting recruited in Grade 8 and they’ve been big supporters of me so when I visited I got that feeling like this is where I need to be,” confirms Zingaro. “They’re family oriented, a small town-feel, and it reminds me of where I’m from in Bolton.”
“Before I go there a big thing I need to work on is just my communication,” she says. “I do a really good job of getting open in the post but have to be more vocal.”
The offense runs through Zingaro and she’s more than adept at swinging the ball back out with just the right pass. Always running the length of the floor and establishing position quickly she catches teams off guard then hustling for second-chance opportunities she can overwhelm even elite defences. Sometimes when the shots are falling she can be downright unstoppable.
Games like her 33 point, 19 rebound, 6 steal performance or her incredible 42 and 19 game show how high her ceiling is.
But off the court she’s still the same fun kid who likes to be loud sometimes, enjoys Hawaiian pizza and dresses as a giraffe for Halloween, or singing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars.
“She’s very funny,” remarks her teammate Lauren Foullong. “Always trying to get everyone involved with everything. Very friend and group-oriented and wants to make everyone laugh. Quiet sometimes but when she doesn’t want to be quiet she’s not quiet. A very nice and genuine person.”
She’s also stuck close to home which is important for her.
“She’s been in our Caledon program the last 9 years,” says Coach Everett. “Started in the OBAs at U10, U11 and all the way up. She’s one of these kids who didn’t have to leave her community to go play anywhere.”
“You’re from a small town like Bolton and there’s opportunities and options everywhere and she chose to stay and she’s had a meteoric rise where each year has been better. She’s dominated this year as a Grade 11 and made a name for herself that’s going to get her a full ride.”
Her coach even joined her on the Provincial level as the two won a National silver medal with Team Ontario in 2018. Zingaro was named to the All-Tournament First Team.
“Playing for Team Ontario’s given me exposure and brought up my confidence and being able to represent your province is a huge thing,” says Zingaro. “It’s great to play against great players from other provinces and it made me a better player.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to coach a kid that calibre with Team Ontario and have a stellar team around her and it’s a whole different environment day-to-day,” reflects Everett. “Every day you’re practicing with kids your size or bigger. That’s a rare thing - even in the OSBA there’s not that many programs out there with multiple kids that are 6-feet tall and when she’s in that environment every day and battling and learning what works and doesn’t work you learn a few tricks along the way.”
“It paid off big time.”