Globetrotting Zeglinski coming back to Philly

Back home: North­east nat­ive Sammy Zegl­in­ski, cur­rently play­ing pro ball in Aus­tria, hopes to com­pete in “The Tour­na­ment” in June for a $500,000 prize. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Sammy Zegl­in­ski’s ca­reer as a pro­fes­sion­al bas­ket­ball play­er has taken him all over the world and back, yet the al­lure of com­ing back home to Phil­adelphia is al­ways in­es­cap­able. 

He’s cur­rently play­ing pro ball over­seas in Aus­tria, but Zegl­in­ski grew up as a hoops standout at Our Lady of Cal­vary with older broth­ers Za­ck and Joe, the lat­ter of whom starred on the court at Arch­bish­op Ry­an. After four years at Penn Charter, Sammy moved onto a stel­lar ca­reer at the Uni­versity of Vir­gin­ia, where he ranks fifth all-time in three-point­ers made at the school. 

His first pro­fes­sion­al stop was in Ice­land be­fore end­ing up in Aus­tria; such is the no­mad­ic, ma­raud­ing life­style of a hoops play­er try­ing to make a liv­ing over­seas. The one con­stant of liv­ing far from North­east Philly for the last sev­en years has been sum­mers back home, and in 2014 Zegl­in­ski will be back in town for what he hopes is the best sum­mer of his life.

Let’s re­wind.

About a month ago, Zegl­in­ski heard through friends about something called “The Tour­na­ment,” a na­tion­wide five-on-five bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment of 32 teams com­pet­ing for a grand prize of $500,000. The event be­gins on June 6 and runs through June 28, with all games be­ing held at Phil­adelphia Uni­versity in East Falls. 

Shortly there­after, dom­in­oes from across the globe began to fall. Sam’s child­hood friends Fran McGlinn (gen­er­al man­ager/coach) and Eric De­th­loff (as­sist­ant coach) toyed with the idea of en­ter­ing, and Zegl­in­ski, des­pite be­ing half a world away, was soon on board with broth­er Joe and a slew of former and cur­rent team­mates. 

“At first, I thought it was fake,” said Zegl­in­ski, speak­ing from Ober­wart, Aus­tria, about an hour out­side of Vi­enna, where his team, the Gun­ners, were pre­par­ing for a quarterfi­nals post­season game. “I couldn’t be­lieve there was a real tour­na­ment tak­ing place at Philly U. with a grand prize of $500,000. I looked in­to it, saw it was le­git and then we star­ted think­ing about put­ting a team to­geth­er.”

Therein lies the true chal­lenge. You see, to play in The Tour­na­ment, one simply doesn’t just sign up. No, you need help. Of the 32 teams to play, the first 24 will be de­cided based on which team garners the most fan votes on the event’s of­fi­cial web­site (www.the­t­our­na­, with the fi­nal eight be­ing chosen by tour­na­ment of­fi­cials. Right now, Zegl­in­ski’s team, the Philly Pat­ri­ots, has the most votes of 47 eli­gible teams. However, with a May 1 dead­line rap­idly ap­proach­ing, he’s hop­ing the Pat­ri­ots can make it of­fi­cial with some help from ho­met­own sup­port­ers.

“On the web­site, we’re able to see all the teams try­ing to make it in­to the tour­na­ment,” Zegl­in­ski said. “There are a lot of former col­lege play­ers re­unit­ing and put­ting teams to­geth­er. With the cutoff be­ing May 1, I still think we’ll see a lot of tal­en­ted play­ers join­ing rosters late and try­ing to make the field.”

In ad­di­tion to the Zegl­in­ski broth­ers (Joe had a mem­or­able col­legi­ate run at the Uni­versity of Hart­ford), oth­er mem­bers of the Pat­ri­ots in­clude Sean Sing­let­ary, a former team­mate of Sammy at Penn Charter and Vir­gin­ia who has played in the NBA, the NBA De­vel­op­ment­al League and Europe; Ry­an Pet­tinella and Jason Cain, Philly guys who also played at Vir­gin­ia; Fran Dougherty, a second-team All-Ivy League se­lec­tion at Penn; Abe Lod­wick, Zegl­in­ski’s cur­rent team­mate in Aus­tria; Dan Co­mas, who played at Chest­nut Hill Col­lege; and Ma­madi Di­ane, a former team­mate at Vir­gin­ia. 

Throw it all to­geth­er, and the Pat­ri­ots’ abil­ity to score in­side and out should give them a fa­vor­able shot to be the last team stand­ing.

“The tour­na­ment be­ing held in Philly really ex­cited us,” Zegl­in­ski said. “We chose the name Pat­ri­ots be­cause that was our AAU team grow­ing up. It was a chal­lenge put­ting it to­geth­er with a lot of our guys over in Europe, but in the end we were able to put to­geth­er a very good team.”

After sev­en years away from home, the pro­spect of re­turn­ing to play in such a unique tour­na­ment fired Zegl­in­ski up. It will rep­res­ent a nos­tal­gic re­turn to glory for those in­volved, wheth­er they were team­mates in col­lege or played on the same AAU team grow­ing up. 

“For me, North­east Philly will al­ways be home,” he said. “Go­ing back to col­lege, I’ve been away for sev­en years straight. But every sum­mer, I spend all the time I can at home with fam­ily and friends. My par­ents still have their house in the Chalf­ont neigh­bor­hood. I haven’t been home since last Au­gust, so I’m pretty ex­cited.”

For the Ober­wart Gun­ners this sea­son, Zegl­in­ski is av­er­aging 16 points, five re­bounds and five as­sists per game. The town is small (about 3,000 people, ac­cord­ing to Zegl­in­ski), but its res­id­ents sup­port the team stead­fastly. He’s en­joyed a few so­journs to Vi­enna, and also en­joyed his time in Ice­land, where his team won a cham­pi­on­ship. 

It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of life­style, one that can some­times feel over­whelm­ing giv­en how far away Zegl­in­ski is geo­graph­ic­ally. But at the end of the day, he can’t com­plain.

“There are a lot of long nights, and be­ing away from home gets tough some­times,” he said. “At the same time, I get to travel the world and get paid to do something I love. I get to meet so many dif­fer­ent people and learn a lot about dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and it’s all pos­sible through bas­ket­ball. My ul­ti­mate goal would be to keep pro­gress­ing to bet­ter leagues each year, con­tin­ue to de­vel­op my game and get to the highest level I can, wheth­er it be the NBA or Europe.”

Ath­let­ics have al­ways bon­ded the Zegl­in­ski fam­ily, from the three broth­ers play­ing foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball grow­ing up to young­er sis­ter Christina, now a fresh­man at the Uni­versity of Pitt­s­burgh, who played soft­ball at Ry­an. Sam is the only one still con­sist­ently play­ing at an or­gan­ized level, and the game of bas­ket­ball holds bonds built with fam­ily and friends tightly in place.

Zegl­in­ski will be com­ing home re­gard­less this sum­mer; he just hopes it’s to play in the bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment of a life­time. As for what he would do with the money should the Pat­ri­ots win the whole thing?

“I would def­in­itely go on a long va­ca­tion,” Zegl­in­ski said. “But once Au­gust comes around, I’m sure I’ll be talk­ing to my agent to see where I am head­ing next, wheth­er it’s the (NBA) D-League, South Amer­ica, Europe or Asia.” ••

To be­come a fan of the Philly Pat­ri­ots, go to www.the­t­our­na­­ri­ots and click “Join to fan this team.” The dead­line to do so is May 1.

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