Unplanned encounter lands Palombizio at Oakland University


Chris Palombizio (right), assistant coach Drew Valentine’s first recruit, signed with the Oakland men’s basketball team in November. 

What does it mean to be in the right place at the right time?

For Chris Palombizio, it means a chance to play Division I college basketball at Oakland University.

And for Drew Valentine, it means a chance to land his first recruit as a college coach.

On July 25, 2015, Valentine sat in the stands of the Spiece Fieldhouse in Fort Wayne, Ind. alongside Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo at an AAU tournament. The pair watched Oakland recruit Brailen Neely and MSU recruits Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston of The Family face the Illiana Warriors in the GRBA National Championship.

Although Valentine was at the game to watch Neely, a 6-foot-7, 210 pound forward from the opposing team who was tough and could shoot the ball well caught his attention.

“This kid is just killing [The Family], and they got a team full of Division I players,” Valentine said as he recalled the mid-afternoon game. “[The Family] was arguing over who was going to guard him and he ended up with like 35 points.”

That player was Chris Palombizio, and after Valentine searched his name on Google, he learned he was the son of the 1981 Mr. Basketball of Indiana and hall of fame player Dan Palombizio, who played college basketball at Purdue and Ball State before playing professionally overseas.

“I was like, this kid seems like the kind of kid I want to get in on and Coach Izzo said, ‘yeah, you better get on him Drew,’” Valentine said.

So he did.

Signing day

Palombizio signed with the Golden Grizzlies in November and decided to opt out of his final semester at Don Bosco Prep, a fifth-year prep school in Indiana, to come to Oakland a semester early.

An Indiana native and graduate of Chesterton High School, Palombizio initially signed with Western Michigan. He made the decision to attend Don Bosco Prep instead because he wanted offers from bigger schools.

Also factoring into his decision to attend prep school was a fifth metatarsal break he suffered his junior year of high school, which put him out about five months and interfered with his performance during what would’ve been his final AAU basketball season. By attending Don Bosco, he was able to play another summer of AAU.

“For him to go through AAU again and have the end of summer and the fall that he had in the weight room and the court is definitely the reason why I think he’s in the position that he’s in,” Valentine said.

“I think it also speaks to him individually because sure, the prep school he’s at is a pretty good prep school, but if Chris wouldn’t have made the decision and worked as hard as he did, I don’t think he’d be in the position he’s in.”

By coming to Oakland a semester early, Palombizio will have several additional months to adjust to the faster paced, more physical college game and “learn the system” before officially suiting up for the Golden Grizzlies this fall.

“It’s really going to help me just because my freshman year, I’m going to be ready,” he said. “I’m going to know what to expect. I got a chance to play right away just because I have this extra semester to learn the plays and just get better with the coaches and understand what they want from me.”

A special bond

Palombizio said Valentine played a big role in his decision to come to Oakland. He said they’ve built a good relationship with one another and he liked Valentine’s “track record,” and Valentine said he feels a sense of pride since this is his first recruit as a coach at Oakland.

“It’s very exciting if your first recruit can have the impact that I think he can have. He just brings something kind of different that we haven’t had from his position,” he said.

“We’ve always had really good shooters but he’s 6-7 and more of like a three or four. He’s tough and he can rebound. He’s just a different player than we’ve had here with his size and skill level.”

Palombizio added that the ultimate reason he came to Oakland is because he feels it’s where he will reach his full potential.

“It’s been my dream to play Division I college basketball,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to getting involved and just being a part of this great organization.”