Pitt guard returns to campus where he grew up watching his idols
Pitt's Trey Zeigler looks to pass in the Blue-Gold basketball scrimmage Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
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Trey Zeigler spent four years of his childhood in Pittsburgh before his family moved. They were formative years as an elementary and middle school student, and he often tagged along to work with his father.
Ernie Zeigler was an assistant basketball coach at Pitt under Ben Howland from 1999-2003 and little Trey idolized two players on the team in those years -- Brandin Knight and Julius Page.
The Zeiglers have come full circle this year after coaching stops in Los Angeles and Michigan, and the youth who used to shoot around with his boyhood heroes at Fitzgerald Field House and Petersen Events Center is pulling on a Pitt jersey of his own these days.
"Brandin and Julius, those are the guys I watched," said Zeigler, who transferred from Central Michigan in the offseason. "Ontario Lett, Chevy Troutman. I remember all those guys. They changed the culture around here. I watched them bring Pitt to this level. Now I'm trying to keep it going."
Trey, who attended school in the North Allegheny School District, moved to Los Angeles when Ernie accepted a position on Howland's staff at UCLA after he left Pitt in the spring of 2003. The family moved again when Ernie was named head coach at Central Michigan University in 2006.
During this time, Trey developed into one of the top recruits in the country. He was a consensus top-30 player and decided to stay home to play for his father at Central Michigan, becoming the highest-ranked recruit to sign with a school from the Mid-American Conference.
Trey led the Chippewas in scoring in each of his first two seasons and became the first sophomore in school history to score 1,000 points, but it wasn't all good times. The team struggled to an 11-21 record last season and Ernie was fired.
Staying at Central Michigan was not an option. Pitt, Duke and UCLA were suitors for his services in the spring. He had connections at Pitt and UCLA, and in the end his father's friendship with head coach Jamie Dixon and Knight's presence on the staff were the deciding factors.
"Brandin was a big part of me coming here, knowing that's one of my dad's guys, one of my dad's players," Zeigler said. "Their relationship helped me make my decision."
Zeigler, a junior guard who received an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility, will fill a big void on the Panthers this season. With the graduation of Ashton Gibbs, one of the top-10 scorers in school history, Dixon is in need of some scoring punch to help Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall with the offensive load.
But scoring -- Zeigler averaged 16 points per game in his two seasons at Central Michigan -- is only part of a well-rounded game. In addition to playing shooting guard, he is versatile enough to play small forward and point guard, and he is an accomplished passer.
Dixon and Woodall said Zeigler reminds them of Brad Wanamaker, a former teammate of Woodall's who helped the Panthers win the Big East Conference championship two years ago.
"He's a really good passer and playmaker, similar to Brad in a lot of ways, his ability to get in the lane," Dixon said. "He's an experienced guy, and we needed to get older. Adding a guy who played a lot of minutes in college basketball was key. That's good for him and everyone involved. He's a good passer and an unselfish player. That's something that will spread on a team that has always passed the ball well."
Woodall also gave his stamp of approval.
"He's unselfish," Woodall said. "He'll fit in well right away. The difference between him and [Gibbs] was Ash was a spot-up shooter. He's more of a driver and he's a creator. It's always good to have someone who can create and get others open and be just as unselfish as anyone else. That will help us."
Zeigler has meshed nicely with his new teammates and his transition back to Pittsburgh has been eased by his family moving with him. His sister, Skylar, is a junior at Taylor Allderdice and plays on the volleyball team. Ernie is a regular at Pitt practices.
Ernie still coaches Trey in private workouts at night, but it's not as intense as the past two seasons when he was Trey's coach.
"It's kind of nice not having him down my throat," Trey said with a smile. "It's kind of laid-back now."
Trey witnessed the Panthers go from one of the bottom-feeders in the Big East to champions of the conference and back-to-back appearances in the Sweet 16 early in the past decade. Now he is eager to earn his stripes on the team for which he once dreamed of playing.
"It's amazing to come back here and see how it's evolved," he said. "It's way bigger now than it was then with the Zoo and how everything has changed. I'm excited. I want to put my own stamp on the program."
NOTES -- In the Blue-Gold scrimmage Sunday at Petersen Events Center, junior forward Talib Zanna scored 20 points, freshman point guard James Robinson added 15 and freshman center Steven Adams 14 to lead the Gold team past the Blue, 65-55. ... Adams was 7 for 11 from the field and also had 11 rebounds. ... Zanna was 7 for 7 from the field and had seven rebounds. ... Woodall and Patterson led the Gold team with 16 and 15 points, respectively. ... Pitt's first exhibition game is Oct. 26 against IUP at PEC.
First Published October 15, 2012 12:00 am