There is an auto repair business in Arlington, Texas named Miracles Never Cease.
I can’t say for certain that it got its name from Zakai Zeigler but it could have.
Zeigler is a basketball miracle. So far, he has been unceasing in delivery. His exciting story is what he does with what he has.
He looks to be a fraction short of five feet, nine inches tall. He might weigh a stout 165. Half of that is heart.
He can direct the Tennessee offense. Some days, he is an accurate shooter. All days he plays defense. He is a warrior.
Determination is the key word. Confidence is a close second. He has a defiant attitude. Nobody, NOBODY, is going to push him around.
“He’s got that New York City guard presence. He’s tough, and he’s a winner.”
So sayeth Rick Barnes.
In the beginning, Zakai was more or less nobody in an athletic jungle. He played a bit of football, quarterback, but he really wasn’t big enough. He played basketball for Upper Room Christian in New York. He was the same size, still too small.
After graduating from Our Savior Lutheran School in The Bronx, he played as a post-grad last season at Immaculate Conception High in Montclair, N.J. He averaged 20.0 points and 4.6 assists.
He had one scholarship offer, a take-it-now-or-forget-it from Saint Peters University of Jersey City. He didn’t take it. He later admitted he didn’t fully understand the circumstances.
The miracle starts here. Last August, playing AAU ball for the New Heights Lightning, he lit up the Peach Jam in Augusta, Ga. In one game, the unheralded, unknown Zeigler played 25 minutes, scored 23 on 8-11 shooting (one miss from 3), had 10 assists as the point guard, ZERO turnovers and three steals.
Michael Schwartz, Tennessee associate head coach, just happened to be there. Mike happens to be a lot of places where there are recruiting possibilities.
Schwartz called the boss. Barnes and assistant Rod Clark flew to Augusta. They saw Zeigler up close and personal. He earned “Best Performance” recognition of the tournament. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 4.7 to 1. UT coaches voted 3-0 to recruit him.
“He can play defense” was what Zeigler said he heard. “I can pick up 94 feet.”
According to his self-scouting report, speed sets him apart from the competition.
“Without my speed, I wouldn’t be able to guard the people I’m able to guard.”
“What stands out to me about Zeigler is his toughness and appetite for competition,” said Eric Bossi, national analyst for 247Sports. “He hits the floor like he’s 10 feet tall and bullet proof and teammates feed off of that energy.”
The basketball world awakened. Zeigler was suddenly upgraded from nobody to a three-star prospect, the No. 37 point guard nationally. Boston College, Minnesota, Wichita State and Tennessee offered. Fordham and Manhattan took another look at the New York City map. New Mexico State called.
Most recruiters talked about the future. The Vols gave him the “now” opportunity. Barnes just happened to have a scholarship available.
Zeigler took an official visit. He was stunned. He said “Wow!” You can guess how UT facilities compare to Fordham and Manhattan.
It made sense to say yes. He is smart. He was a week and a half late in enrolling but he caught up.
“We got very fortunate and blessed to get Zakai Zeigler,” said Barnes.
The coach identified potential but admits he had no idea what he was getting.
“I don’t know where we would be without him.”
Zeigler impressed his new teammates.
“The first day,” Josiah-Jordan James said. “Seriously. The first day. He had, like, eight or 10 points in a row the first day he was here, and I was like, ‘Who is this guy? He’s, what, 5-5? Look at him. There’s no way he should be out here on the court doing what he’s doing.’”
Zeigler kept proving it wasn’t an outlier.
“I mean, Zakai is a player. He definitely has been impressive,” James said. “Somebody asked who’s been the most impressive guy, and I’d say him. I mean, I knew kind of what we were getting with all the other freshmen, with Kennedy (Chapman), Jahmai (Mashack), Jonas (Aidoo) and Q (Quentin Diboundje).
“But Zakai was somebody we found out about, I think, like five days before he committed here. He came out of nowhere. He’s tough, man. He’s tough. He plays hard. I categorize him as just a baller.”
You know what has happened, about the steals, clutch free throws and the winning play at Vanderbilt.
Scottie Pippen Jr. got his 18 points but he went 3-for-10 from the field. Zeigler picked off the pass and hit the free throws that decided the game.
Zeigler said Pippen said after the game: “Yeah, you gave me a run.”
It’s enough to make you wonder: Will miracles never cease?
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is email@example.com.