‘Parents' is usually the answer when looking at the source for certain traits in a person, and in Mazzulla's case it's also the correct one. For basketball talent, as well as perseverance and a deflective mien when discussing personal achievements, there's no doubt that the East Region's Most Outstanding Player owes much to his father, Dan.
Of course, Dan, like Joe, isn't into heaping praise upon himself. And truth be told, he doesn't pile it on Joe, either. He's quick to morph into a discussion of the joy of the entire Mountaineer basketball squad, as he did immediately following West Virginia's 73-67 win over Kentucky.
"I am so happy for him, because he has worked hard," the coonskin-capped Mazzulla said. "Not just for Joe, but for all the guys. I am very fortunate to be close to the team. They are a great bunch of guys, and they have a great coach in Coach Huggins. He does a wonderful job with the guys."
Fairly standard stuff for a parent, but Dan has an outlook those only parents like Pam Kelly Flowers ( a three-time All-American and a College Basketball Hall of Famer) and Jerry West (need we say more?) can share. He too, is a championship level basketball player who understands what it takes to succeed on the court.
At Bryant College (now Bryant University), Dan was a leader on two NCAA teams who scored 1,390 points (10th all-time) and collected 761 rebounds (fourth all-time). A 2007 inductee into the school's hall of fame, he knows how hard the game is on its own. When additional obstacles, such as Joe's injury and legal scrapes are added in, it can become almost insurmountable. Therefore, Dan's pride is a mixture of that for his son's performance on the court and the way in which he changed and matured over a very tumultuous two years.
It's not just the achievements, however. A leader on the court and in his job as Director of the Johnston, R.I. Parks and Recreation Department, Dan knows that putting faith and trust in a person can often yield huge dividends.
"I am very happy for him, but by the same token, they have confidence in him and he has to come through. He has to play the game hard and do those things he has been doing lately for the team to be successful."
"Successful" is probably an understatement for what Mazzulla has achieved, but again, that's a story that has been well-documented at this point. The same qualities that allowed Joe to fight back were also present in Dan, who followed his outstanding college career with a stint in professional basketball in South America. And when it came time for him to try to instill those qualities in Joe, he didn't push him as a coach or on the court.
"The only thing I asked of him was that he commit to whatever he was doing, to compete hard, and be disciplined and committed to it," Dan told BlueGoldNews.com several years ago. "I didn't push him to play basketball. I let him make up his mind on what he wanted to play."
Dan certainly had to be secretly pleased when Joe found his passion for hoops, but again, he didn't interfere with his progression. Although he coached his son in youth league soccer, he never coached him in basketball, instead preferring to let him develop his own style under the tutelage of others. That Joe ended up with the hard-driving, tough-minded outlook of his father isn't a coincidence, though. It's a reflection of how Dan taught the important lessons that would benefit him no matter what his field of endeavor.
"I told him that if you work hard, you never know what can happen," Dan said amid the joyous celebration of the East Region championship. "He did that to overcome his shoulder injury and just kept on going. I told him you just can't negate hard work. That if you work hard enough, you can make it happen."