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UVa's Zeglinski finds his role

UVa's Zeglinski finds his role

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Jim Phillips calls Sammy Zeglinski a “consummate point guard.”

“He doesn’t care about scoring,” said Phillips, Zeglinski’s former high school coach at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. “He certainly can if need be, but he gets just as much excitement out of making the right pass as he would scoring the ball.”

That’s a good thing, then, since Zeglinski hasn’t put the ball in the hole very much during Virginia’s current four-game losing streak. The redshirt freshman is just 1 of 16 from 3-point range.

But while Zeglinski’s shooting has been off, a closer look at his stats disproves the notion that he is struggling as mightily as some people perceive.

Check out his assist-to-turnover ratio — the most important statistic by which a point guard is judged.

In the past nine games, Zeglinski has 33 assists to 24 turnovers. That’s quite a contrast to his first seven, when he had 23 assists to 24 turnovers. Back then, that stat seemed to slip through the cracks because Zeglinski was scoring in double figures in all but one game.

When you look at Zeglinski’s numbers overall — 9.9 points, 3.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds — you certainly have to be encouraged if you’re a Virginia fan. They compare quite favorably to most other freshman point guards in school history.

“What I like most about him is his ability to get into the lane,” said Cory Alexander, the school’s radio color commentator. “He’s had his struggles here and there, but I think he’s done a really good job so far.”

Alexander had one of the best freshman seasons of any Wahoo floor general, averaging 11.2 points, 4.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 1992.

Sean Singletary, considered to be one of the greatest guards in UVa lore, averaged 10.5 points, 3.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds in his first year.

Meanwhile, the numbers of other Virginia legends weren’t nearly as impressive.

During the 1978-79 season, Jeff Jones — who later coached the Cavaliers from 1990-98 and is now the head coach at American University — averaged 5.4 points, 4.9 assists and 2.0 rebounds. A decade later, John Crotty averaged 6.3 points, 3.0 assists and 2.3 rebounds as a first-year.

Another Cavaliers great, Barry Parkhill, didn’t play as a freshman due to NCAA eligibility rules at the time. (As a sophomore, Parkhill averaged 10.5 points, 3.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds.)

What many fans forget is that very few players come into the ACC and achieve great success immediately. Even fewer of those players are point guards.

Playing the point in one of the best conferences in the country is a far cry from high school, no matter what the level of competition.

“I think you kind of come in and are a bit overwhelmed by the guys you’ve watched play for years and who you’ve somewhat patterned your game after,” Alexander said, “and now they go from guys you almost idolized to a certain extent, to guys you have to compete and hold your own against.”

When Alexander was moving up the AAU and high school ranks, he looked up to Georgia Tech’s Kenny Anderson, Duke’s Bobby Hurley and Florida State’s Sam Cassell.

“[Hurley] had just won a national championship,” Alexander recalled. “Getting the chance to play against him — he wasn’t my hero or anything, but he had the type of success you wanted to have.

“[Zeglinski] has a lot of Hurley in him,” Alexander said, “but he reminds me more of a Crotty. All three are pretty tough guys, willing to put their bodies at risk.”

Zeglinski, who has been one of Virginia’s best players at drawing offensive fouls — he also leads the Cavs in steals — has had the unenviable task of filling Singletary’s shoes. Fortunately, he’s had some experience doing it.

At Penn Charter, Singletary and Zeglinski were teammates when Zeglinski was a freshman and Singletary was a senior. Former Notre Dame player Rob Kurz, a big man who has had a few cups of coffee in the NBA, was also on the squad.

“We could all handle the ball, so I got to play off the ball more than I ever did in my life,” Zeglinski recalled. “I became kind of a spot-up shooter because those two would draw so much attention, but when I brought the ball up I could find them off the screens and stuff, too. It was a great experience.

“After [Singletary] left, it was just my turn to take over the team and run the show.”

Zeglinski did a pretty nice job. He finished his high school career with 1,642 points, earning first team Class AA All-State honors as a senior.

But Zeglinski has always been more concerned with dishing than swishing.

Zeglinski is the youngest of three boys. One brother, Joe, plays basketball at Hartford. Another, Zack, was a standout in football and basketball in high school before suffering a knee injury.

Like his older brothers, Sammy also played football and baseball. He was a quarterback on the gridiron and a middle infielder on the diamond.

“He was always in one of those thinking-man spots,” Phillips said. “I think playing the point is something that’s just always been ingrained in him.”

While at Penn Charter, Phillips always tried to get Zeglinski to be more of a vocal leader.

“I’m not a rah-rah kind of guy and getting people going that way,” Zeglinski said. “I try to lead by example mostly, but coaches want their point guard to be vocal, so he would always push me to talk more and stuff.”

Little did Zeglinski know, but Phillips — a coach known for an in-your-face-style — was preparing him perfectly for the kind of coaching he would be receiving at Virginia from the fiery Dave Leitao.

“He kind of coached the same way as coach Leitao,” Zeglinski said. “He tried to motivate people by getting on them a little bit, [so] it was a smooth transition.”

Penn Charter athletic director Paul Butler says Zeglinski, who received great support from his parents, John and Margherita, was a perfect role model for younger students.

He says Zeglinski was just like his older brothers, whom he knew well from their days at Penn Charter.

“They’re not braggers, they’re not flashy,” Butler said. “They just play hard and compete and do well.”

No matter how many of their shots are going in the basket.

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