Athlete of the week: Lexi Funaro, Zimmerman, girls basketball: She’s a pistol

by Bruce Strand, Sports Editor

Zimmerman’s high-scoring point guard Lexi Funaro draws inspiration from a basketball star of her grandpa’s generation: Pete Maravich.

“I used to watch videos of him all the time, and I’d practice what he did,” said Funaro about Pistol Pete, who set scoring records (44 points per game once) at Louisiana State in the 1960s that still stand and died young at 41.

The 5-foot-4 Funaro has become quite a pistol herself this year, pouring in 17.5 points per game. With her long arms, ball handling skills and bravado, she shows glimpses of her hero.

Lexi Funaro averages 17.5 points for the Thunder and excels with ball handling. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

Lexi Funaro averages 17.5 points for the Thunder and excels with ball handling. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

Funaro is also supplying 2.6 assists, 2.6 steals and 3.3 rebounds per game in leading the Thunder to a 15-9 record, their first winning season since 2005-06. She’s hitting 47 percent from the floor and 63 percent from the line.

Last season, she was scoring 11 points per game when a stress fracture in her ankle sidelined her for the last 11 games. As soon as she could, she started prepping for her senior year and a bid to play college ball.

While Pistol Pete was said to dribble a basketball wherever he went as a kid, Funaro wasn’t quite that fanatic, but she did spend countless hours in the Westwood Elementary gym over the summer.

“I really worked on my game — my shooting, ball handling, jumping, running sprints for my stamina,” said Funaro, who was usually alone in the gym. She also played AAU ball.

Thunder coach Lance Dalbey appreciates the leap Funaro made and can pinpoint the main reason.

“Lexi is one of the best ball handlers I’ve ever coached. She’s incredible,” Dalbey said. “Everything stems from that. Her ball handling skills make her stronger at passing, shooting, finishing at the basket, everything.”

Dalbey praised Funaro’s improvement with her shooting, too, both in selection and accuracy.

“Where last year, she’d take, say, 16 shots and get 12 or 13 points,” Dalbey said, “this year she’ll take 12 shots to get 18 or 20 points.”

Funaro can hit the 3-pointer a lot better now (20-for-50, or 40 percent). She’s also “much more confident” about driving to the hoop and snaking her way past 6-footers for layups, using those long arms to evade blocks.

Missing half her junior year was “really hard,” said Funaro, but she stuck with the team every day to help with drills in practice and “grab their water and pump them up” at games. This year she was elected co-captain with Jami Schuster.

She is actually a four-year starter, the first two years at Princeton before moving to Zimmerman.

Funaro is elated to be part of a consistent winner this year. The Thunder (11-16 last year) hold second place in the Granite Ridge Conference, are averaging 62 points and have earned a home game to start playoffs.

“We definitely connected as more of family this year,” she said. “We got 93 points one game, the most Zimmerman ever had. It’s been a really good year, and we’re really close.”

Funaro said her parents didn’t play basketball, but her grandfather, a Maravich fan, did play and encouraged her to start in about third grade. Like Pistol Pete, she’s been dribbling ever since.

THE FUNARO SCORECARD

Lexi Funaro

Lexi Funaro

Personal file — Age: 18 …  Family: parents Cindy and Jeff, sisters Alli and Stephenie … Sport: basketball … Other activities: school book club … Academics: 3.8 GPA … College plans: leaning toward Concordia (Moorhead), exercise science, basketball

Favorite stuff — Class: economics … TV shows: “Nashville,” “Chicago Fire,” college basketball … Movie: “She’s the Man” … Reading: mysteries, especially James Patterson …. Meal: mashed potatoes, chicken, corn … Drink: water … Teams: Kentucky, LSU men’s basketball … Athletes: John Wall, Pete Maravich … Kickback activities: reading, fishing, biking, roller blading … Wants to visit: Australia

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