Athletic talent certainly has taken the three Zeglinski brothers far and wide, way away from the Calvary Athletic Association in Millbrook where they grew up playing basketball. But now that they are all back in the Northeast for the first time in more than five years, Zack, Joe and Sammy are discovering there really is no place like home.
It’s been a long, sometimes strange and always eventful, journey for the Zeglinskis. There have been more twists and turns in their story than an episode of Lost, but the one uniting factor is that they constantly have had each other’s backs in the face of adversity.
Now, together again (albeit for a short time), they plan to pass their expansive knowledge onto young Northeast-area athletes with the Zeglinski Basketball Academy (ZBA), which began earlier this week at Calvary and is for players who are serious about taking their game to the next level.
The workouts will continue through the summer and are designed to enhance the skills of each player in a competitive atmosphere while receiving instruction from former Division I players and coaches.
“We all have experience because we all went through it,” said Joe, 25, the middle brother. “We’ve been around basketball our whole lives and know what it takes to play at that level. The combination of knowledge and experience that the three of us have can help younger kids grow as players and get to that next level.”
The Zeglinski brothers didn’t arrive at this position by accident. Growing up not far from Archbishop Ryan, they excelled playing basketball for Our Lady of Calvary and football for the Philadelphia Little Quakers program.
Zack, 26, was always the best athlete and was the first of his family recruited to play high school sports at Penn Charter. The affluent private institution in East Falls has produced several professional athletes, including Zack’s close friend Matt Ryan, the current quarterback for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Zack was an electric three-sport standout in basketball, football and baseball at Penn Charter and was constantly a part of winning teams.
Joe followed his brother and enrolled at Penn Charter as an eighth grader, where he averaged almost six points a game on a team that included Zack and three future professional athletes. Sensing it wasn’t the right fit, Joe chose to be closer to home and transferred to Archbishop Ryan the following year, where he was an All-City and All-Catholic running back and later became the school’s all-time leading basketball scorer. His number is retired in both sports.
Sammy, 24, enrolled at Penn Charter in 2003 and played the same three sports as Zack. Despite the school fielding perhaps its best basketball team ever (seniors Sean Singletary and Rob Kurz later played in the NBA), Sammy cracked the starting lineup as a freshman and played alongside his older brother while winning Penn Charter its second straight league title. He later finished second on the school’s all-time scoring list.
For a while, everything was great for the tight-knit trio. Their father, John, played football and baseball at Wake Forest University, and surely his sons were bound for college athletics.
“For us, we always had something to relate to each other about,” Zack said. “Whether it was wiffle ball in the front yard, football in the basement or basketball in the driveway, we were always competitive. We developed a toughness and competitive drive by always being together playing the same sports.”
But like always when it comes to sports, the glory didn’t last forever.
During his senior year at Penn Charter, with serious Division I football looks (and basketball and baseball ones surely to follow) coming his way, Zack suffered a catastrophic knee injury that altered plans that hadn’t even been made yet. A torn ACL changed everything; instead of picking from an assortment of scholarships, he limped to Penn State as an invited walk-on. An aggravation of the knee injury forced him to give up football shortly thereafter, and he subsequently transferred to Temple, where he joined the baseball team.
Meanwhile, despite a knee injury of his own suffered in high school, Joe earned a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Hartford. Despite his bum knee that sometimes prevented him from practicing toward the end of his career, Joe poured in over 2,000 career points and the 11th most three-pointers in Division I history.
With Zack’s knee injury, Sammy was given the keys to the Penn Charter program as a sophomore, and his skills on the court were rewarded with a scholarship at the University of Virginia, which plays in the ACC, one of the most cutthroat conferences in college basketball. He was a four-year starter for the Cavaliers, where he just finished his collegiate career by guiding the school to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. He ranks fifth in school history for three-pointers made.
“Those guys always had a complete understanding of what it was like to be part of a team,” said Jim Phillips, who coached all three brothers while at Penn Charter and will assist them in running the ZBA. “They never questioned their roles, even if they could have been greater. Zack was the best athlete, Joey was the best scorer and Sammy was the purest basketball player, and they come from a very tight-knit family. I had nothing but positive experiences with them and their family, and I was incredibly grateful when they asked me to be a part of their new venture all these years later.”
Zack’s unpredictable journey ultimately led him to Hartford, where he transferred from Temple, making it his third college in four years. With one year of NCAA eligibility left, Zack played his senior year alongside Joe, a tremendous thrill for both of them. After graduating, Zack stayed on with the men’s basketball program for two more seasons as a graduate manager, where he is currently a month shy of earning his master’s degree.
“When I got hurt in high school, that changed a lot of things for me,” Zack acknowledged. “Then I got hurt again at Penn State and was told I would never play football again, and my family was always supportive of me and behind me no matter what I did.”
Sammy admitted what a hard time for the family it was to see Zack get injured, but he also said it spurred him on to give his all and be the best player he could be.
“It helped me work harder,” Sammy said. “I was wishing he didn’t get hurt because that was going to be our team that year. But in a sense I was playing for him because I knew how badly he wanted to be out there. He pushed me that much harder from the sidelines, and I felt a responsibility to play harder out of respect for him.”
Now that they’re all home, not much has changed in the Zeglinski brothers’ relationship. Together under the same roof again, the reunion has meant more time spent with each other and less miles put on John and Margherita Zeglinski’s car shuttling back and forth from Connecticut to Virginia to see their sons play. Being home represents precious time with one another, the parents that sacrificed so much for their athletic endeavors, as well as younger sister Christina, a senior-to-be for the Ryan softball team.
They’ll enjoy it while it lasts, which won’t be long. About the same time Zack will finish his graduate studies at Hartford, Sammy will embark on a professional basketball career overseas, where he already is weighing offers from international teams in Iceland and Germany, among others. While their younger brother starts a new chapter in his life, Zack and Joe (who played professionally in Denmark for a short time before returning to Philadelphia in November due to continued problems with his knee) will do the same, perhaps looking into a career in coaching the game they love so much.
For now, they’ll see what they can make happen with the ZBA, but no mater how it turns out, they will appreciate the time spent together because they know full well at this point how rare this opportunity is.
“It’s cool that we all got to experience it together,” Zack said. “Being the oldest, I was so proud seeing them go to college and have the success they did, and that’s something we’ll always bond over. Now, while we can, we’ll offer our help to any kid that wants to come enhance their skills. We were in their position once, and now we’re in a position to help. The past has been fun, but we’ve got a good future ahead of us.”
Added Sammy: “No matter what happens in the future, being at home with my brothers in Northeast Philly will always be my favorite memory. Establishing this academy is going to keep us that much closer. Am I excited about what the future holds? Sure, but being home with them is the memory that keeps me going.”
And while their playing days are over, Zack and Joe are excited to follow Sammy’s burgeoning career all while beginning a new chapter in their own stories, something that is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
“It is tough when you play a game your whole life, and then all of a sudden it’s over,” Joe said. “It was so fun to be part of each other’s careers, and with Sammy’s just starting, that will continue. Being so involved in each other’s lives has kept it fun and being a part of a competitive environment with this academy will help fill the void of us no longer playing. The rest will be filled being around each other, and even if we end up in different places, I know that we’ll always be close.” ••
For more information on the Zeglinski Basketball Academy or to schedule a workout, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.orgEndFragment