From dropout to championship-level coach, Izzy Galindo has Pueblo game away from first title

Izzy Galindo is 199-94 in his 11th season at Pueblo (Pueblo photo)

Izzy Galindo survived in the South Tucson projects at 10th Avenue and 21st Street, exposed to gang activity while growing up with five siblings, raised by his mother Rosa after his father was no longer around.

“I dropped out of Tucson High with only three credits,” Galindo said. “I didn’t like school. I didn’t like authority, I think it was.”

After Galindo was turned down for interviews for coaching jobs at four different high schools in 2012, Pueblo was his fifth try. The school gave him the opportunity to coach the program, that included his daughter Idalis, based on the formation of his successful Dizzy Squad basketball club.

On his first day of practice with the Warriors, his niece Araceli Espinoza passed away from lupus.

“We couldn’t cancel practice after finally getting this position; Araceli wouldn’t have wanted us to do that,” he said. “We went ahead with practice. It was tough.”

After experiencing so many complications in his formative years of life and coaching, Galindo is numb to what others might think are pressure-filled situations.

The minutes leading up to Pueblo’s last practice of the season Wednesday was not one of high intensity before it faces Flagstaff in the 4A state championship game Thursday at 6 p.m. in Phoenix.

Izzy Galindo when he first coached Pueblo to the 2018 championship game (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Lever Gym did not fall silent with the Warriors consumed by pensive thoughts of what lies ahead against the second-seeded Eagles at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Laughter filled the air. The players sat on the side of the court and joked with each other. Not one of them had a basketball, feeling the urge to shoot or dribble around.

Galindo’s fourth-seeded team less than 24 hours previously took a bus to Gilbert and brought home the hope for the school’s first girls basketball state title. A stirring 52-48 win over No. 1 Mesquite in the semifinal round resulted in a lively bus ride home and a near sleepless night.

On the eve of the one of the most significant nights of his coaching career, Galindo will not be awake to the early morning hours scrutinizing film of Flagstaff.

“We’re tired,” Galindo said. “It was a late night coming back. We’re just going to do a light practice, some dribbling mostly and then let them go home and rest.”

He has been here before with Pueblo reaching the championship game in 2018, when it lost to Seton Catholic 55-42 to finish 30-3 that season with his daughter Ilyssa a standout.

Galindo has managed to get to this point in his life and coaching career — one win shy of achieving his 200th victory at Pueblo as well — following an unconventional climb.

He did not get his GED until he was 25.

“When my daughter Idalis was born, I was 21 and that’s when I started growing up,” he said. “That’s when I realized I need to do something.”

His lifeline from the time he dropped out of Tucson High School until then was spending his days at the Santa Rosa Parks and Recreation Center near his home at 10th Avenue and 19th Street.

“I did that to stay away from the gangs,” he said.

He became employed by the Tucson City Parks and Recreation Department as a teen and he continues to work there with a position at the William M. Clements Center on the eastside of town.

“I was working at El Pueblo (Neighborhood Center) when I was 25 and they had GED classes there,” he said. “I paid for the money order to take the test and I passed it on my first try. I knew at that time I wasted my time not going to school. I could have graduated.

“I missed a lot not being in high school. When I started coaching here, after my oldest (Idalis) transferred from Tucson High, I had never gone to a high school basketball game or football game. I didn’t do that when I was a kid. Now, I go to all the sports to support the Pueblo kids. It’s kind of weird. It works out weird sometimes.”

Galindo learned how to coach basketball on his own.

While playing for his older brother’s team at the Santa Rosa center as a 16-year-old, he rarely played because he was one of the youngest on the team.

“During the season, I’m just like yelling, like a coach on the sideline, and as years went by, my brother and players his age grew too old for the league,” said Galindo, who is 199-94 in his 11th season at Pueblo. “When I became one of the older ones, we had younger guys on the team. I got too old to play, and they were like, ‘Come coach for us.’ I just kept coaching and that’s basically how I started coaching.”



Galindo, who turned 49 in January, earned a business and marketing bachelor degree from the University of Phoenix 16 years ago. He has started work on a master’s degree in psychology.

He stresses to his players now the importance of education and pursuing degrees in college.

Senior captain Victoria Cazares, a guard who has 1,812 points in her career, will play her last organized basketball game Thursday. She will not pursue playing basketball in college and will instead take nursing courses at Pima College starting next school year.

She acknowledged that Galindo is more direct to her in a demanding tone “because I am like the coach on the court,” but she credits her coach for helping her development, including as a person.

“Communicating with him overall is easy because he’s a really understanding person,” said Cazares, whose sister America is one of the top freshman guards in the state.

From a high school dropout as a freshman to getting his GED 10 years later. … From that point to earning a college degree with work started on a master’s degree. … From all of that to being one win away from a state championship and a 200th career victory as a head coach … it’s like a movie script.

The only thing is Galindo is not bent on storybook endings.

He’s more about the process that makes something out of his players’ lives.

“I told them yesterday (after beating Mesquite), we’re coming home with something,” he said. “I’d rather have the championship trophy, but we’re coming home with something. No other team’s gonna say that this year.

“Don’t get me wrong, I want to win it. But no matter what, we can say we did what we weren’t supposed to do and something nobody thought we were gonna do. It’s anybody’s game.”


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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