By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — His father, John, played football and baseball at Wake Forest. One brother, Zack, played football at Penn State, baseball at Temple and basketball at Hartford. Another brother, Joe, played hoops at Hartford.
Sammy Zeglinski’s family members appreciate better than most people the peaks and valleys of athletic competition, and when the fifth-year senior from Philadelphia struggles the way he did Saturday against Florida State, they give him his space.
“They know not to talk to me after a game like that,” Zeglinski, a starting guard for the UVa men’s basketball team, said with a smile Monday at John Paul Jones Arena.
“They know I really don’t like to talk to people after games. They give me my privacy, and then I’ll give them a call later, around midnight or something, and talk to my dad, and he’s always really supportive.”
To say Zeglinski’s college career has been a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. The fans at John Paul Jones Arena cheered him wildly when he buried two late 3-pointers Jan. 26 against Boston College. The crowd at FSU’s Donald L. Tucker jeered him mercilessly Saturday when he put up four airballs.
“Definitely highs and lows,” Zeglinski said. “I think it builds character, so it’s good for me.”
He’s had numerous memorable games — remember the six 3-pointers he hit in College Park last season to lead Virginia past Maryland? — but has had to battle ankle, knee and hip injuries along the way. And now he finds himself in a troubling slump at a time when the Wahoos, who are down to eight healthy scholarship players, desperately need production from Zeglinski.
In UVa’s three ACC losses, he has gone 2 for 22 from the floor — 1 for 16 from 3-point range. For the season, his shooting percentage has dipped to 37.1 and his scoring average to 8.7 points per game.
Zeglinski, who ranks fifth all-time at UVa in 3-pointers, with 182, has made only 12 of his past 45 attempts from beyond the arc. Still, you can expect to see No. 13 in the starting lineup again Wednesday night when 19th-ranked Virginia (4-3, 18-4) hosts ACC foe Wake Forest (2-7, 11-12) at JPJ.
On the ACC coaches’ teleconference Monday, UVa’s Tony Bennett was asked if he had considered starting freshman Malcolm Brogdon and bringing Zeglinski off the bench.
That is “not out of the realm,” Bennett said, “but I don’t think that’s the answer.”
UVa has five perimeter players — Zeglinski, junior Jontel Evans, sophomore Joe Harris and freshmen Brogdon and Paul Jesperson — and “they’re all going to play,” Bennett said, though Jesperson’s role remains small.
“Whether you come off the bench or start, I think that’s not as significant of a deal,” Bennettt said. “It’s just a matter of, again, playing and doing the right thing.”
Zeglinski is second on the team in assists (54) and steals (31), and he’s an important part of Virginia’s Pack Line defense. He’s generally been careful with the ball — his 32 turnovers are the second-fewest among UVa starters — and can run the offense when Evans is on the bench. It’s no secret, though, that the ‘Hoos need his outside shooting to ease the pressure on their best player, Zeglinski’s classmate Mike Scott.
“Sam’s a really experienced player, and he understands,” said Harris, one of Zeglinski’s roommates. “He knows when he plays well and when he doesn’t. There’s been all this talk about Sam having on games and off games and what not, and I just feel like it’s the last thing we want to do, try to talk to him about it.”
Bennett said he’ll encourage Zeglinski “to keep impacting the game with his defense, with his decision-making, with his leadership, and then keep taking good shots. And if they’re there, you gotta take ’em, and if you’re not feeling it, then pass it up.”
Thirty times in his college career, Zeglinski has made at least three 3-pointers in a game. In UVa’s Jan. 28 win at NC State, he hit 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.
“I just gotta keep shooting the same shot and keep shooting with confidence,” Zeglinski said. “Shooters go up and down. I don’t know the reason for it, but you can’t let it affect you or the team. Just gotta keep playing through it.”
He heard the fans riding him in Tallahassee, Zeglinski said, but “you gotta be able to block them out and keep playing.” The Seminoles’ long, athletic defenders bothered him more than the crowd did.
“Probably my shot was a little too quick and it was a little off balance,” Zeglinski said. “They definitely did a good job of closing out. I probably could have shot-faked once or twice and got by them.”
That’s what he did in the final minute, driving the left baseline and then passing the ball out to Harris at the top of the key. Harris’ 3-point attempt, which would have tied the game, barely missed, and FSU held on to win 58-55.
“Joe was the hot hand,” Zeglinski said. “He was knocking down some shots in the second half. So I got by my guy, and I knew I probably could have got to the rim, but I felt someone on my back [and thought] maybe he would have been able to get a piece of it. I saw Joe out of the corner of my eye, and I knew he had a top-of-the-key look. More times than not he’s going to make that shot, and the ball went in and out. It was halfway in.”
In 2006-07, a UVa team led by point guard Sean Singletary — like Zeglinski a graduate of Penn Charter School in Philly — advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The ‘Hoos haven’t been back to the NCAAs since, but with eight regular-season games left, plus at least one in the ACC tournament, they’re well-positioned to break through this year.
“That was obviously one of our main goals before the season even started,” Zeglinski said, “so to have it in our grasp and in sight is exciting for us, but we know we still got a lot of work to do to get to that goal. And to move even forward after that, to have success in the NCAA tournament, we’re going to have to tighten up some things and play a little bit better.
“You just keep pressing on, and hopefully we learned some things from the Florida State game — I know I did — and apply them [against Wake] and just try to keep pushing forward and getting better.”