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Central Michigan has a legitimate star

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. -- In coaching, all you ever want is an advantage. In the MAC, that advantage has typically come in the form of an NBA-level player.

Think Wally Szczerbiak at Miami, Bonzi Wells at Ball State, Gary Trent (the Shaq of the MAC) at Ohio and Chris Kaman and ‘Thunder’ Dan Majerle at Central Michigan.

Ernie Zeigler II has been the head man at CMU for four years now and has led the Chippewas to back-to-back MAC West Division championships. He married his wife Seantelle and on April 20, 1991, Ernie III (Trey) was born. Little did either know that this little bundle of joy could someday become an “advantage.”

Trey showed signs of being a player at age 12 and had positive point guard influences like Brandin Knight at Pitt to model his game after. ESPN.com rated him No. 33 on the ESPNU 100 as an elite senior out of Mt. Pleasant High School and his game became so impressive and advanced that he had scholarship offers from all over the country, including at finalists Michigan, Michigan State and UCLA.

The Bruins were considered by many to be the frontrunner as coach Zeigler had served as Ben Howland’s assistant for five seasons at Pitt and UCLA.

A week before the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic in April 2010, Trey told his father that he was heavily leaning toward going to UCLA. It appeared to be a done deal. Ernie called Howland to give him the good news.

Then everything changed.

The epiphany moment came for Trey as he was playing a week later in the Derby Classic and Ray McCallum, Jr. was his roommate. McCallum, also a highly rated ESPN.com prospect (No. 17) was leaning toward playing for his father, Ray Sr., at Detroit. Those heart-to-heart talks with his good friend convinced Trey to do the same thing.

Ernie Zeigler awaited his son’s return from Kentucky and they met in his office for one last recruiting pitch, coach to player and father to son. But before the elder Zeigler could say a word, Trey said, “Dad, I’m coming here to play for you.”

Ernie called Howland back. One week prior, Howland was consoling his former assistant on Trey’s probable decision to go to UCLA and now the roles were reversed.

Howland was and is a class act and they remain great friends today despite the flip-flop. And Ernie Zeigler has now coached his freshman son every day in practice this fall.

“I love playing the point and getting guys involved,” said the younger Ziegler. And he does it well.

Trey Ziegler is 6-5 with point guard skills and the versatility to play the 1, 2 or 3. He is a dynamic passer with vision and possesses a coach’s son understanding of the game. He can score mid-range and sees over defenders in the open court and is effective creating passing lanes off the dribble. He has some Gordon Hayward in his game, although he is three inches shorter and currently lacks the 3-ball range. But like Hayward, Zeigler is a 3-S player: Size, skill and scoring ability.

Coach Zeigler told his team during practice, “Our mid-range game is going to be our strength.” His son Trey is a prominent part of that.

Every shot, every movement, every pass and every decision I saw in practice has led me to believe that the next great MAC player will be Trey Zeigler.

A few more observations from CMU:

  • The Chippewas are more athletic inside with 6-8 Andre Coimbra, who is still raw but is rangy with wing span and a motor. The big Brazilian could be an inside difference-maker as his game is refined.

  • One other freshman is vying for playing time at CMU. Derek Jackson from Cleveland has good feet on D and is unselfish on O. I love his catch, square and shot-fake. He will be a good one when it is all said and done.

  • The Chips play seven of their first eight away from home, with their only home game against nationally ranked Temple. Tough start, but a great way to challenge a young and talented team.

  • If you are an incurable insomniac, you can see Trey Zeigler and Central Michigan take on Hawaii in Honolulu on ESPN during the 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon. The game will tip off at 4 a.m. ET on Nov. 16. Get that Red Bull ready.