The Florida Gators were down 83-81 with four seconds remaining in their Sweet Sixteen matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers last year. With the season in the balance, Gators guard Chris Chiozza grabbed the inbound pass, weaved through the Badgers’ defense and tossed up a floating 3-pointer that hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
Chiozza’s heroics helped the Gators survive and advance to the Elite 8. It also gave the point guard another chance to play for his maternal grandmother, whom he keeps in memory with a tattoo on his left shoulder.
Chiozza’s earliest memories of his grandmother, Pearlie Crenshaw, started as a kid when he was running around at their farm in Mason, Tenn. Pearlie retired early from her job to allow her daughter Curtistine Crenshaw-Chiozza to work and not have to pay for child care for Chris when he was younger.
“She didn’t want him to have to go to daycare, so he was with my parents a lot and had a free run on their farm,” Crenshaw-Chiozza told ESPN.
Chris Chiozza also spent Sunday mornings in church with his grandparents at First Baptist Keeling. He would sit in the pew right beside his grandfather, Emerson Crenshaw, who was a deacon in the church, the same place of worship that Chiozza’s parents attend to this day.
“It’s a big reason why I have so much faith in myself and they had so much faith in themselves: me, family and God,” Chiozza said to ESPN. “That’s a big part of who I am and why I’m so confident.”
But before his junior year in high school, Chiozza’s life would change. His beloved grandmother died right before a major AAU tournament in Pittsburgh. With the funeral the same week of the tournament, Chiozza’s mother made the tough decision to tell her son to stay in Pittsburgh and play in honor of his grandmother.
And honor her he did.
Averaging 27 points, seven assists and seven steals during the weekend slate of games, Chiozza led his team to the championship game. Colleges took notice as he was offered scholarships by Florida, Ohio State, Tennessee and UConn.
“My basketball career went to a whole different level, and I know a lot of it was my grandmother being up there watching me,” Chiozza said. “That’s when people found out who I really was, and I’ve just felt like a different basketball player since she passed away.”
Later on, Chiozza decided to honor his grandmother with a tattoo on his shoulder. As the Gators’ star continues his senior campaign, he’s hoping to lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament. And every time his feet hit the hardwood, he tries to play his best for the woman who fuels his love for the game of basketball and helped raise him in church as a kid.
“Before every game during the national anthem, I close my eyes and say a little prayer and think about my grandmother and everybody else who’s been a big part of my life, like my mom and dad, my whole family really,” Chiozza said. “I think about all they’ve done for me. I just want to make them proud.”
You can read the entire ESPN story on Chiozza here.
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