By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Marianna Papazoglou is 16 years old and lives in North Wildwood. She has yet, however, to make it to the beach this summer.
“I’m so pale,” she said with a laugh.
It’s not that Papazoglou doesn’t like the sun, sand and ocean. She simply hasn’t had time.
The rising junior at Wildwood Catholic High School has been busy with either basketball or work pretty much every day since school ended for the summer in early June.
Papazoglou competes for the Philadelphia Belles 16U AAU girls basketball team, which recently wrapped up a whirlwind week by winning a pair of championships at a national tournament in Washington, D.C. The Belles competed in two separate tournaments at the event at two different age levels, winning titles at both the 16U and 17U levels. All told, the Belles won 14 games over a nine-day span.
Papazoglou is the lone New Jersey player on her Belles team, which is based in the Philadelphia area. She estimates that she’s played in about 50 games for the Belles since the start of the AAU season in the spring. They lost just four of them.
The travel for practices and tournaments can be a grind, but …
“I love everything about it,” Papazoglou said. “The competition and the intensity is different. And I definitely get more exposure up there.”
Papazoglou is a 5-10 wing player with an array of skills that can allow her to play almost any position on the floor when needed. Last season for Wildwood Catholic, she became the first basketball player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points as a sophomore. She averaged 18.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game last season for the Crusaders.
Colleges are starting to notice. Papazoglou, also an excellent student, has received interest from a handful of Ivy League and Patriot League schools, as well as Manhattan, Loyola, Fairleigh Dickinson and others.
Following the two tournament victories in Washington, Papazoglou celebrated briefly with her teammates, then traveled home to … go straight to work at the Wildwoods Boardwalk restaurant owned by her mother, Haroula Rotondi, and stepfather, Joe Rotondi.
“Yep, mom sent me right to work,” Papazoglou said with a laugh. “When she first told me on the way home I didn’t think she was serious, but I kind of thought a little bit that I might have to.”
It’s a sacrifice she’s more than willing to make.
“I definitely give credit to my parents because they make a lot of sacrifices for me,” she said. “It’s hard for them to leave the restaurant in the summer to watch me play but they do it as much as they can. They’re doing a lot of stuff for me to go to tournaments far away, so why can’t I work to help them out?”
Papazoglou hopes the work she has put in as an athlete and as a student results in a college scholarship.
“I’m hoping I can a college education for free,” she said. “Hopefully one day my parents won’t have to pay for everything they’re paying for now.”
Nearly everyone who follows high school sports in this area would identify Papazoglou athletically as a dynamite basketball player. But she’s also one of the school’s better girls soccer players, scoring a team-best 12 goals last fall. And last spring she joined the softball team midseason after the program suffered from a numbers crisis.
“Basketball’s my No. 1 sport but playing soccer and softball, I’ve definitely built a bunch of other relationships and I play for the fun of it,” Papazoglou said. “I’m very competitive and I love trying to get my teams to be competitive. Soccer helps me get in shape for basketball, too.”
AAU basketball season is now over for Papazoglou. But that doesn’t mean she gets much time to rest. She’ll attend a weekend basketball camp at Susquehanna University this weekend with her Wildwood Catholic teammates. Then she’ll return for 5 a.m. soccer workouts, evening basketball practices and plenty of work at her parents’ restaurant.
In other words, don’t expect her to be getting to the beach anytime soon.
“It’s basketball, work; basketball, work,” Papazoglou said. “My summers have always been busy. But I love it.”