By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Ethan Saliba is an institution in the UVa athletics department, where he’s worked tirelessly for nearly 30 years.

Sammy Zeglinski hasn’t been alive that long. Yet he and Saliba have forged a strong bond, a product of the many hours they’ve spent together since Zeglinski enrolled at the University at 2007.

“Ethan and I are best friends,” Zeglinski said Tuesday in the men’s practice gym at John Paul Jones Arena.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing,” he added with a smile. “Ethan’s great, though.”

Saliba, an associate athletics director at UVa, is the athletic trainer for the men’s basketball team. As such, he works personally with injured players, and so he’s seen plenty of Zeglinski.

The 6-1 guard from Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School had two operations on his right ankle during the 2007-08 season — Zeglinski’s first at UVa — and ultimately received a hardship waiver from the NCAA.

He stayed healthy as a redshirt freshman in 2008-09 and started 15 games. In 2009-10, Zeglinski started 29 games and led the Wahoos in 3-pointers, assists and steals, but he played much of the season with an injured left hip that required surgery in April.

And now, on the eve of his redshirt junior season, he finds himself in the training room again. Dr. David Diduch repaired cartilage damage in Zeglinski’s left knee Oct. 19.

There were concerns before last week’s operation that microfracture surgery might be needed, which would have sidelined Zeglinski for the entire season, but it “was a good outcome, at least from the surgeon’s standpoint,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said.

Zeglinski said: “I was praying, and all my teammates and coaches were praying for me. Thankfully, Dr. Diduch was able to get the procedure done. He did a great job.”

If his latest rehab goes as scheduled, Zeglinski will be cleared to play again in mid December, about eight weeks after his operation. He’s still on crutches, but Zeglinski should be able to shed them next week.

“By four weeks, I probably can start conditioning pretty regularly,” he said, “in the pool and on the bike and stuff like that. I think at six weeks I’ll be on the court making cuts and stuff like that. Hopefully right around eight weeks I’ll be ready to go full strength.”

Of his operations, Zeglinski said, this “was definitely the most painful one. I couldn’t really do much after the surgery. With the hip I was walking around fine a couple days later.”

Zeglinski rolled down the sleeve that covered his left knee. On one side of the knee is a tiny hole that Diduch drilled to perform part of the surgery, Zeglinski said. On the other side is a scar from an incision the surgeon made.

“Basically what happened was, a piece of cartilage broke off my bone,” Zeglinski said.

The cartilage is like the peel of an orange, Zeglinski said Diduch told him, “and a piece peeled off.”

Some athletes deal with little more than bumps and bruises during the college careers. Zeglinski has been on the operating table more times than he cares to remember. Does he ever ask himself, “Why me?”

Zeglinski shook his head.

“I’m definitely never going to feel sorry for myself or throw myself a pity party or anything like that,” he said. “I just trust God and his plan for me, and hopefully I can help lead this team from the bench, and with my knowledge of the game help these young players out as much as I can. And then, right around when ACC [play] gets here, be able to contribute back on the court.”

UVa’s opener is Nov. 12 against William and Mary, the first of seven games that month for Bennett’s team.

The Cavaliers open ACC play Dec. 5 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. They don’t play another conference game until Jan. 8, when North Carolina visits Charlottesville.

When he returns, Zeglinski is likely to see time at both guard spots, as he did in 2009-10. For now, he’s focused on his daily sessions with Saliba and Mike Curtis, the team’s strength-and-conditioning coach.

His teammates have helped him get through his latest setback, Zeglinski said. He’s thankful, too, for the coaching staff’s support.

“I’m just fortunate I’m not going to miss the whole season,” he said. “These eight weeks, I’m just hoping to be an extension of Coach. I’ll just try to be an assistant coach, look at it that way, and help the players as much as I can with my knowledge of the game.”

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