ALBANY — Will Brown didn’t have to think long about it.
Has he previously ever had a University at Albany men’s basketball player spend free time the way freshman Antonio Rizzuto has opted?
“I mean,” Brown said Friday, “how many Division I programs have a firefighter suiting up for them?”
As of this week?
At least one.
Rizzuto was sworn in Tuesday as a member with the McKownville Fire Department, a station whose response area includes part of the UAlbany campus. The 19-year-old started work toward becoming an official member of the volunteer department during the basketball season, in which Rizzuto was the third-leading scorer for the Great Danes at 9.2 points per game.
One of the first friends Rizzuto made at UAlbany — Brian Trifon — began volunteering with the fire department early in the school year. At first, Rizzuto toyed with the idea of joining Trifon when he headed to the department to take part in training tutorials. Eventually, a couple months ago, Rizzuto made up his mind.
“What the heck,” he thought. “Just go.”
While student-athletes have little free time, Rizzuto said he wanted to make the most of his spare hours. After the first semester of his freshman year, Rizzuto said he wanted to find something to add to a daily routine that had become exclusively built around going to class and playing hoops.
“So I wanted to try to do something, something different, in my free time,” Rizzuto said.
At his current level with the department, Rizzuto has trained to become qualified as an “exterior” firefighter, so he can assist on calls, but cannot go directly into the scene of a fire. Sworn in Tuesday with the department, Rizzuto responded to his first call Thursday evening shortly after finishing up an offseason basketball workout.
“When he talks about it, there’s an energy and a passion about him,” Brown said of Rizzuto’s work with the fire department. “It’s cool.”
Rizzuto is from York, Pennsylvania. While Rizzuto’s involvement with the fire department initially surprised Brown, the coach wasn’t shocked that Rizzuto found a way to get involved with something in the area outside of basketball.
“Antonio is guy that community is important to him and I think he looks at Albany as the community he lives in now,” Brown said. “He’s doing it for the right reasons. He’s looking at it as in that he can help his community, and he doesn’t do anything half-heartedly.”
Rizzuto plans to remain active with the fire department throughout the year, but said he’s excited for the summer months when he has more free time.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do something like this,” said Rizzuto, who will spend a large chunk of his summer at UAlbany. “During the summer, we’ll have lifting at 8:15 in the morning and workouts at 12 — but I’ll have the rest of the day to do whatever. So if I get a call, I can go.”
Rizzuto said it was a bit surreal to respond to his first call — “This is really happening” — even if it only ended up being for a malfunctioning microwave on campus. He’s unsure if he wants to pursue becoming an “interior” firefighter, but he’s open to the idea.
“You have to take advantage of your opportunities,” Rizzuto said, “so I want to see how this goes.”
“We’re proud of him,” Brown said. “College student-athletes don’t have a lot of free time. Basketball has become a year-round sport, so between his basketball commitments and school commitments, for him to sacrifice a lot of his free time to do something that’s so positive for the community and the area, it’s neat. I think it’s really special.”