OHS BB Isaiah Palermo

Osceola's Isaiah Palermo, the Osceola County Boys Basketball Player of the Year, helped the Kowboys win a second Class 9A state championship with offense, defense and leadership.

All-County Boys Basketball

Player of the Year: Isaiah Palermo (OHS, Sr)

All-county team: Osceola: Diwon Black, Josh Marte. St. Cloud: Steven Guzman. Gateway: Tyreek Robinson, Collin Griffin. Poinciana: Reggie Mesidor, Anthony Duncan. Liberty: Jaylen Williams, Joel De Los Santos. Harmony: Tyrell Pendergast. Celebration: D’Angelo Riascos.

Honorable mention: Osceola: Jaduhkiss Soto. St. Cloud: David Roc. Gateway: Will Mukuvi. Poinciana: Jahsean Corbett. Harmony: Caeleb Bass. Celebration: Terrell Chisholm.

By Ken Jackson

Sports Editor

“Glue guys” on teams don’t often shine the brightest. Like the nickname says, they hold the team together by doing “the little things” right, or doing a little bit of everything.

That was senior Isaiah Palermo this season for the Osceola Kowboys on the basketball court.

Drive the lane? Got it.

Shoot the jumper, or make a critical three-pointer? Give him the ball.

Lock down an opposing star guard on defense? Show him who.

Basically, make the play the Kowboys needed to win a second Class 9A state championship in three years?

Go get “Zay”.

Palermo, a four-year OHS varsity player, may not have been the best player in an Osceola uniform down the stretch this season. Diwon Black, a University of Florida football recruit, was huge, especially in the final six games of the season, all playoff games, including his 35-point effort in the 50-43 title game win over Wellington when he scored 33 of the Kowboys’ 36 points over the final four quarters.

But Palermo might have been one of the most important players, given his calm demeanor, his ability to protect the basketball on the floor, and his valuable experience in win-or-go-home games over the last three seasons.

Surrounded by a great cast of Osceola basketball players this season, Isaiah Palermo is the 2018-19 Osceola News-Gazette Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“He’s a tough cookie. He spent four years with us and was whatever we needed him to be, and he accepted that, he embraced that.” OHS Coach Nate Alexander said. “‘Tonight we need your offense, but tomorrow we need your defense.’ It’s hard to come across kids like that. If he had baggage he left it outside the gym, because we never knew what kind of day he’d had once he stepped on the floor.

“Isaiah was just a coach’s dream. As a young freshman he was just a sponge, taking everything in. As his skills got better, he coupled that by seeing other guys. He was a sixth man, then he was the man, then he filled in whatever we needed. Wherever he lands (he has yet to sign with a college, but it’s coming), they’re gonna get a prize.”

Palermo said he reflects more on the whole Kowboy career than seasons, or championships, with a few highlight memories.

“I think about it all the time, I think about the season, all four of the seasons,” he said.

Sure, the Kowboys won a state championship — Palermo led the Kowboys with 16 points, five rebounds and three steals in a 62-54 semifinal win over South Miami before Black went bonkers in the title game — but he said his favorite moment of his varsity career was the game that sent them to Lakeland, a 47-39 win over Oak Ridge at home in the regional final. The Kowboys and Pioneers met three years in a row in that regional final game, and Osceola won two of the three, and led the 2018 game by three points with a minute left before Oak Ridge pulled it out.

“We were frustrated we couldn’t do better and just got on each other at halftime about how we could do better,” he said. “Josh (Marte, the point guard), got to me and got he fired up. Beating them again after we lost to them felt better than winning state.”

When the Kowboys returned to the RP Funding Center in Lakeland — more an airplane hangar than a basketball gym — Palermo said he felt completely at ease in the situation, thanks to experience.

“I felt no pressure. I was happy to be back,” he said. “I knew, in a humble way, we would win because I wasn’t afraid of losing.”

The Kowboys would never have walked into that building without Zay’s leadership, especially after starting the season 4-5 and getting a couple helpings of humble pie in the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers just before Christmas.

“City of Palms tested us in a way we needed that we couldn’t find around here in our county or district,” he said. “We had a target on our back anyway being Osceola, then you win state, then you do it again … everybody plays as hard as they possibly can against you.”

Alexander said the college Palermo ultimately selects will get a polished product.

“It’s bittersweet seeing him move on,” the coach said. “Physical-wise he’ll be ready. He’s covered a 5-guy and a point guard. He’s just a worker. If he gets a consistent three-point shot, he’ll be right there. As a late signee, he’s the best guy out there right now.”

Even though he is exiting, expect Palermo’s influence to be on this team next year, when it has at least four new starters thanks to graduation.

“I’ve talked to Armani (Thomas, the only underclass starter), I told him it’s his team now, and it’s good hands. When I was in middle school we heard that Osceola was only a football school. We won two championships and feel like we could’ve had a third.”

It could be four or more, if Palermo finds the right guy to give the glue.