Brotherly Love

— Za­ck, Joe and Sammy Zegl­in­ski have spent their lives play­ing bas­ket­ball. Now, they've come home to give back.

(from the left) Joe, 25, Zac, 26, and Sam, 24, Zegl­in­ski are train­ers at a loc­al bas­ket­ball camp. All three broth­ers have played sports vig­or­ously throughout high school and col­lege, Monday, Ju­ly 9, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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 zegl­in­ski­bas­ket­


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