After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers


After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Trey Zeigler thought he had it all figured out. On paper, it looked so obvious.

When the former Central Michigan guard transferred to Pitt over the summer and was granted a waiver by the NCAA that allowed him to play for the Panthers right away, Zeigler just assumed he'd be inserted right into the starting lineup alongside point guard Tray Woodall.

``That's how I had it in my head,'' Zeigler said.

Jamie Dixon's head, however, had other plans.

A couple days before the team's first exhibition game, Dixon sat Zeigler down and told him freshman James Robinson would start at the point and Woodall would be the shooting guard, leaving the player who averaged 16.0 points a game in two years at Central Michigan somewhat stunned.

Asked if his initial reaction was something along the lines of ``for real?'' and Zeigler laughed.

``Once I figured out I was going to be coming off the bench, it was just growing up,'' he said. ``I had to grow up and deal with the new role and that's just part of life.''

The adjustment period proved rockier than expected.

Though Zeigler was productive when given playing time early in the season, things changed when the 21-year-old was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence in late November. Dixon suspended Zeigler two games. It gave Zeigler time to re-evaluate his outlook.

Did he wonder if he'd made a mistake by coming ``home'' to Pittsburgh - where his father Ernie, served as an assistant coach under Ben Howland from 2001-03 - instead of accepting transfer offers from Duke and UCLA? Did he think maybe he should have sat out a year to get acclimated instead of trying to immerse himself in an entirely new system in a few short months?

``All kinds of thoughts went through my head when I was going through it,'' Zeigler said. ``The biggest thing was having my family here, that really helped. Having my mom and dad here, talking me through it. If I was here by myself, it might have been even worse.''

Ernie and Seantelle Zeigler moved to Pittsburgh to be with the oldest of their two children when Central Michigan fired Ernie as head coach following six uneven seasons. Though he's out of coaching for the moment, Ernie is still getting his fix by breaking down tape with Trey into the wee hours of the morning.

Lately, dad's been a little busier than usual thanks to a decided uptick in play - and in playing time - for his son.

Zeigler is averaging 9.0 points over his last three games for Pitt (16-4, 4-3 Big East), which hosts DePaul (10-8, 1-4) on Saturday. It helps that he's playing about 22 minutes a game since Dixon made him the first guard off the bench before a loss to Marquette two weeks ago.

``I'm playing a lot more so I feel more comfortable on the court and doing what coach wants me to do, rebounding and defense,'' he said. ``I'm just trying to bring positive energy out there.''

The most direct route to getting into the lineup when playing for Dixon is crashing the boards, a point of emphasis since the beginning of the season.

The 6-foot-5 Zeigler is unlike most shooting guards in that he's not big on chucking 3-pointers - he's taken just three all year - and instead relies on slashing to the rim or pulling up for a midrange jumper. That means he's around the basket quite a bit, making him an effective rebounder. Nearly half (14) of his 34 boards have come off the offensive glass and he's shown a knack for tipping a ball to a teammate for an easy putback.

``It's just about reading the ball, reading it coming off the rim,'' he said. ``I'm not as big as other guys but I can sneak in there and try and get one or two a game.''

Zeigler's increased role has coincided with a three-game winning streak that has Pitt in the thick of a muddled middle in the Big East. A win on Saturday would clear the way for the most pivotal week of the season. Pitt plays at No. 5 Louisville on Monday and hosts No. 3 Syracuse next weekend.

At some point, Zeigler knows the Panthers will have to knock off a team they're not supposed to if they want to bolster their NCAA tournament credentials.

``We know we're good enough to beat anybody, but we need to do it,'' he said. ``We've got some opportunities coming up, hopefully we take advantage of it.''

It's something Zeigler believes he's done following a rough start. While Dixon said there are plans to put Cameron Wright - who Zeigler replaced as the top player off the bench - back into the mix, the coach is also well aware that Zeigler needs to be on the floor.

``I think he's making better decisions with the basketball,'' Dixon said. ``He's now been with us for half a year and I think that's only natural. It's something that we expected and hoped for and we're seeing it. So it's not surprising.''

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Wizards vs. Nuggets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Wizards vs. Nuggets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Special night

It will be an emotional night for many as the Wizards get set to retire Phil Chenier's No. 45 jersey. Chenier was not only a great player for the franchise during their heyday in the 1970s, but he was a legendary broadcaster of Wizards and Bullets games for decades and has been an ambassador for the organization for a long, long time. 

His jersey will be raised during a halftime ceremony hosted by Chenier's former broadcast partner and good friend Steve Buckhantz. Chenier will have many friends and family on hand. All fans will also receive emoji signs with Chenier's face on them.

Chenier's ceremony will air live at halftime during the NBC Sports Washington broadcast, so make sure you stick around for that. It should be a great moment for D.C. sports fans.


Harris is out

Like the Wizards and John Wall, the Nuggets will be without one of their best players as star guard Gary Harris is dealing with right knee soreness. Harris, just 23, is Denver's leading scorer with 17.7 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting from the field and 39.9 percent from three. 

The Nuggets still have plenty of firepower beyond him. Nikola Jokic is one of the game's brightest young stars with averages of 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He shoots a ridiculous 39.3 percent from three as a big man. Guard Jamal Murray, just 20, is averaging 16.5 points while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three. Then there is Paul Millsap, a four-time All-Star who is averaging 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season.

The Wizards' defense will be put to the test, as the Nuggets are one of the best scoring teams in basketball. They boast the seventh-best points per game average (109.8) and the sixth-best offensive rating (112.4). 


Last time was interesting

The first time these teams squared off, back on Oct. 23 in just the third game of the season, things got a little weird. In the final minute, Jokic was assessed a technical for bumping into Wizards head coach Scott Brooks.

It was a bizarre sequence that helped the Wizards come away with a win. Given it was an incident between a player and coach, nothing will happen in the way of retaliation, but it's something to keep in mind as these teams go at it again.


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Redskins Draft Countdown: WR James Washington's numbers don't impress but he could be a solution for the Redskins

Redskins Draft Countdown: WR James Washington's numbers don't impress but he could be a solution for the Redskins

Redskins Draft Countdown

James Washington

Wide receiver
Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington measured at 5 feet 11 inches at the combine and his 40 time was a pedestrian 4.54.

But forget about the numbers. His catch radius is larger than his height would indicate, and he plays much faster than the stopwatch says he does.

His route tree needs to be cleaned up but his ability to get open deep, make receptions on back shoulder throws and, yes, Redskins fans, fade patterns will make him a productive receiver while he learns.

Height: 5-11
Weight: 213
40-yard dash: 4.54

Projected draft round: 1-2

What they’re saying

He doesn't look like a receiver and he doesn't run routes like a receiver, but then you see him get open deep and make all those explosive plays, and you know exactly what he does for an offense.

—A Big 12 assistant coach via NFL.com

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins needed a wide receiver to line up opposite Josh Doctson after Terrelle Pryor fizzled out last year. They went out and signed Paul Richardson to a free agent contract, solving the immediate need.

But in the NFL, you should always be looking for your next receiver. It takes most of them at least a season to develop so if you wait until you really need a pass catcher it’s too late to draft one. Washington has the capability to contribute early and develop from there.  

Film review: vs. Pitt, vs. TCU, vs. Oklahoma

—Like most coaches, Jay Gruden wants his wide receivers to block and Washington certainly gives it the effort. He helped backs gain extra yards on stretch plays with hustling blocks downfield. His technique may need some work—a long touchdown run against Oklahoma was called back when he was hit for holding—but the effort is there.

—Against the Sooners, Washington got by a cornerback who was in off coverage and beat him for a long gain. Later in the game, the corner was in press coverage and Washington made one move and beat the defender on a post for a touchdown. We can insert the usual cautions about Big 12 defenses here, but it still was impressive to watch.

—Speed is important but so is how fast a receiver can stop to catch a pass. On one underthrown fade pattern, Washington was able to slam on the brakes while the cornerback kept on running, making the catch for a nice gain out of the end zone an easy one.

—Against TCU he split two defenders on a deep pass. He caught the ball in stride and then he found a second gear and easily outraced the defensive backs to the end zone to complete the 86-yard play. This is a good example of Washington playing faster than his 40 time.

Potential issues: Washington is not a good enough prospect to warrant the No. 13 pick, but he could easily be gone by the time the time their second-round pick is on the clock. As noted above, the quality of the defenses he faced in compiling 74 receptions for 1,549 yards (20.9 per catch) and 13 touchdowns has to be considered.

Bottom line: If I’m the Redskins, I have a talk with Jamison Crowder’s agent before the draft to gauge what his client would want in order to sign an extension prior to the 2018 season. If it’s something the Redskins consider reasonable, they should look elsewhere in the second round. But if a 2019 Crowder departure seems likely,  they should look at Washington if he’s there in the second round. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.