Pitt's chances of winning one final Big East championship on its way out the door got a whole lot better Friday afternoon when the NCAA ruled transfer Trey Zeigler eligible for the upcoming season.
Zeigler transferred to Pitt last month after spending his first two seasons at Central Michigan, where his father, Ernie, was the head coach. Most transfers have to sit out a mandatory one season per NCAA rules, but Pitt applied to the NCAA for a special waiver for Trey Zeigler because his father was fired in March.
Some transfers are granted a special waiver to play immediately if there is a financial hardship or family illness involved, but the Zeiglers believed they had a strong case from the moment Trey decided to transfer.
"We're hopeful because of the circumstances that played out with my situation that he was going to be in a peculiar and awkward situation [at Central Michigan]," Ernie Zeigler told the Post-Gazette last month.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon credited associate athletic director Dan Bartholomae for researching other cases involving players whose parents were dismissed. The highest profile case involved a baseball player being granted immediate eligibility at Miami after his father was fired at USC.
To Dixon's knowledge, Zeigler is the first men's basketball player to be granted immediate eligibility in such a case.
"We felt like there was a really good chance this would happen," Dixon said Friday night. "After Dan did all of the research, we were very hopeful based on what he was telling us. We expected this decision."
Zeigler is an immediate upgrade for the Panthers, who did not have an established shooting guard to play alongside Tray Woodall in the backcourt.
Zeigler scored 1,011 points during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Central Michigan, leading the Chippewas in scoring each year. He was named third-team All-Mid-American Conference after this past season.
The scoring infusion is something the Panthers desperately needed after an uncommon losing season in Big East play and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.
Zeigler and Woodall instantly form one of the top backcourts in the Big East.
With established players Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore on the wing and elite recruit Steve Adams coming in at center, the Panthers could be a contender for a Big East title in their final go-round in the league before departing for the ACC.
Dixon spent two hours with Zeigler this week in NCAA-approved workouts, and he came away impressed with his new guard's skill set.
"He's a very good passer, very athletic, very good off the dribble," Dixon said. "He's a very good and skilled passer. That was reconfirmed. His athleticism is better than I remembered when we were recruiting him."
Last month, Zeigler said he expected to be used at shooting guard, but Dixon said he will take full advantage of his versatility. At 6 feet 5, Zeigler has the ability play small forward.
That could be a possibility because the Panthers are not deep at power forward.
Talib Zanna will enter the season as the starter there, but Dixon also figures to use the 6-5 Patterson in that spot at times because there is little depth behind Zanna.
"His versatility will be a great asset," Dixon said. "I don't think we'll lock him into one position. That will be very helpful to us."
Trey Zeigler was traveling Friday night and unavailable for comment.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published May 26, 2012 12:00 AM