Antonio Bisutti couldn’t tell his family.
He couldn’t tell them he was trying out for basketball again. He had already been rejected twice as a walk on at Ohio. Last season, he kept it to himself.
His dad was his high school coach. His sisters both played; one in high school and one in college. His mom wanted it for him as much as if not more than he did.
They’d gotten their hopes up for two years. He couldn’t do that to them again.
“It was a big deal,” Bisutti said, “I feel like I—not let them down, but just disappointment,”
But he couldn’t give up. It’s not in his nature. Not playing basketball isn’t in his nature.
Bisutti was a fixture at his dad’s practices as soon as he could walk. He’d shoot around on the sideline and practice dribbling, or play one of the team managers one-on-one. Once he got old enough, his dad let him participate in the lighter drills.
On game days, he’d sit at the end of the bench and wear a two-piece suit with cowboy boots. Sometimes he wore a space hat. Sometimes he wore a motorcycle hat. But he was always at the games.
Hanging at the gym with his dad started off as a chance for a busy coach to spend time with his son. It turned into the world that Bisutti revolved around.
“From five years-old on, he got in (the gym) as much as he could,” said Bisutti’s father, Tony. “I don’t remember him ever turning down an opportunity.”
Antonio had never been cut before.
At Dublin Scioto High School, he was good enough that nobody questioned his dad when he made Antonio the focal point of the offense.
He finished second all-time in school history for assists and averaged 13.6 points and five rebounds per game his senior season. He earned good grades and, according to his parents, he never got in trouble.
He did, however, have a competitive streak.
There’s a basketball themed pinball machine in the basement of his mom’s house. Antonio always had the high score.
Well, there were fleeting moments when he didn't, but he dropped everything he’s doing to right that wrong. He wouldn't come out until his name is at the top again. His current high score: 1,862,341,200.
Antonio and his sisters even compete to see who can buy the sappiest card for their mom, Holly, around the holidays. The goal is to make her cry.
His high school resume earned him a spot at Otterbein, but he quickly realized the culture wasn’t for him. The team wasn’t as close as he was used to. The coach wasn’t his favorite, and he hadn’t been playing the minutes he was promised.
They finished the season 4-22. He wanted out.
Ohio had the pre-med program he was looking for. He knew one of the graduate assistant coaches, David McKinley, who played for Antonio's dad. He could use that connection to walk on for the Bobcats. He was dating an Ohio student named Jessie Lipps.
The match made too much sense.
For two years, Bisutti mimicked the work regimen of a Division I basketball player without Division I facilities.
He had the Ping Center, but it wasn’t the same. He had McKinley, but McKinley couldn’t work with him one-on-one.
The first year was transitional. There was a new school, new environment, new people, he was farther from home, but closer to his girlfriend. All of that plus his pre-med classes made for a hectic schedule.
Lipps, now his former girlfriend, said she thought the adjustments prevented him from playing as much as he should’ve to make the team.
But Antonio carved time in his schedule for Ohio’s practice at the start of the semester. McKinley told him he had to. Players had been turned away before because of scheduling issues.
Tryout day came and went. Conditioning, full court layups, shooting drills, three-on-three, five-on-five. One day to prove your worthiness to coach Saul Phillips and his staff.
It’s simple: if you can play, you get noticed. If not, you get lost in the crowd of dreamers who think they’re good enough.
Antonio felt okay about his tryout. But a week later, he got the text: thanks for coming out, you did some things well, but we’re going in another direction.
Or something to that effect. He doesn’t remember the exact words. He just remembers that he came up short.
The competitor in him knew he would come back the next year. But after being denied a second time his junior year, he wavered. He had only two years of school left. He worked on his game for months without the result he wanted.
His mom didn’t wanna go through it again. His dad told him it might be time to focus solely on academics.
Maybe it was time.
"It was tough," he said. "I contemplated not trying out."
Antonio wasn’t ready for basketball to be over. Playing at Ping was a means to an end, not the rest of his existence as a player.
The years he got cut, Lipps said he avoided going to basketball games. It hurt to be around what he didn’t get to be a part of.
Lipps’ roommate was dating Treg Setty, which didn’t help keep the Bobcats off his mind. But Setty encouraged Bisutti to try out again.
Bisutti had to be in school for two more years anyways. He might as well give it one more try.
So last year he worked harder than ever. He went to Ping twice a day. Once for a workout and conditioning, once to work on shooting and ball handling. Sometimes, he stayed till it closed at midnight.
He made Lipps rebound for him and do drills with him. He brought chairs or whatever else he could find into the gym and used them as defenders.
He worked out four-to-five days a week, conditioned once or twice and stretched and iced afterwards. With his schedule, he felt he was doing as much as he could. He cut out Netflix and video games. He practiced with the women’s team to get familiar with The Convo.
The court was bigger than Ping’s. The lights shined in his eyes when he shot from the corner or under the rim. The gap in seating behind the rim made for a depth perception adjustment.
Come tryout day, he was prepared for all of The Convo’s quirks. He shot the ball better than he ever had. He kept the ball moving. He played good off-ball defense.
“You don’t need a hero out there,” Phillips said. “You need a guy that can simulate what we need simulated without putting our other players at risk.”
Phillips pulled Bisutti aside during one of the drills.
“What year are you?”
It was a small victory, but it was the first time Phillips spoke directly to Bisutti.
Later that day, he got a different text.
Antonio couldn’t tell his family. He didn’t want to jinx it.
He didn’t tell them when he got the text asking for his transcripts. He didn’t tell them when he got invited to a graduate assistant coach’s office to sign NCAA and Mid-American Conference compliance forms.
Instead, he waited until the first day he walked into the locker room. It had to be official.
Once it was, he wanted to surprise his loved ones.
He called his dad first. They forged a special relationship through basketball, so it was only right Antonio officially announced it to his dad first.
“I was shocked, proud and happy,” Tony said. “Ecstatic that I had something to do during the winter.”
Lipps was the only one who had known about the tryout in the weeks leading up to it. She found out at the library. He told her in person.
“I’ve never seen him so happy in his entire life,” Lipps said.
He let it slip to his mom that he was trying out the day before. The waiting was torture for her. When she found out he made it, she cried.
“I was sobbing," Holly said. "Sobbing."
Antonio still works just as hard as he did when he was cut. Except now, he has the Division I facilities. He gets one-on-one time with coaches.
It’s paying off, too. When Antonio was shooting around in a compression shirt recently, Phillips noticed the weight room work paying off.
“You came in here with a D III body,” Phillips said. “Now you’ve got a D I body.”
He’s got a Division I jersey as well, to go along with a Division I jump shot and a Division I backpack.
“It feels great (to wear it around),” Antonio said. “Especially now that it’s Adidas.”
The dream is complete.
“I worked for it for years,” he said. “I love basketball and it definitely meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to my family.”