by Patrick Hayes/ @patrick_hayes
Central Michigan University has produced an NBA All-Star in each of the last two decades — Dan Majerle in the 1990s and Chris Kaman in the 2000s. Trey Zeigler is hoping he can help put CMU hoops back on the map this decade.
Zeigler, who was the runner up in the state of Michigan Mr. Basketball voting in high school, arrived on campus with a lot of fanfare. He chose Central, where his father Ernie Ziegler is the coach, over high major programs like Duke, UCLA, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Michigan. Central also just so happens to be in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., where Ziegler led Mt. Pleasant High School to its best season in school history as a senior.
“There’s a lot of expectations, playing in front of my hometown,” Zeigler said. “We didn’t win a lot of games, but I had a lot of fun with it, being at home, having a lot of friends from my high school see me play.”
Ziegler was one of the top freshmen in the country last season. He set a CMU freshman record with 506 points while leading the team in scoring at 16.3 points per game. He also led the team in assists (2.2 per game) and was second on the team in rebounding (5.4 per game). Ziegler was the runner-up in MAC Freshman of the Year voting, finishing second to Buffalo’s Javon McCrea. Ziegler made the preseason all-conference team and was third among Division I freshmen in the country in scoring.
But although he had some individual success, as part of a young team that featured eight freshmen, CMU finished just 10-21 overall. Ziegler hopes the experience of last season leads to more victories this season.
“We just want to win,” he said. “We were a young team and we’ve got a lot of guys coming back. I think we’ve got a chance to win a lot of games.”
The team finished 7-9 in the MAC West, behind Western Michigan and Ball State, but lost in the first round of the conference tournament to Buffalo. Although growing up around his father’s program gave Ziegler a leg up on understanding the commitment required of Division I college basketball players, he still had to make plenty of adjustments as a freshman.
“Off the court, time management is the biggest thing,” he said. “It’s just one thing after another and you have to be prepared for it. On the court, just trying to get better at passing, get a lot stronger. You don’t get as many dribbles to get your shot off, you just have to get it done with less playing around with the ball.”
Ziegler’s been working on his game a lot this summer. He was one of 18 college players selected to participate in the Kevin Durant Skills Challenge in Chicago in June. He’s also been playing the annual Moneyball Summer Pro-Am in Lansing, which features several college players from Michigan universities as well as professional players.
“It helps a lot, going against these big strong guards, guys like Charlie Bell, Kelvin Torbert,” Ziegler said.
Although he’s been playing against pros as well as college players like Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Brandon Wood and incoming MSU freshman Branden Dawson, a McDonald’s All-American, Ziegler has more than held his own. He scored 33 points against a team led by Michigan State’s Derrick Nix and Brandan Kearney in a game on July 10. Ziegler believes the exposure of performing well in front of college basketball fans at the pro-am could help Central Michigan gain an even bigger following.
“There’s a lot of basketball fans here, so if we could get more people following us, that would be great,” he said.
Several of Ziegler’s CMU teammates, including Andre Coimbra, Paris Paramore, Zach Saylor, Auston Barnes, Nate VanArendonk and Jevon Harden are also playing in the pro-am league, all with a goal to not only get better individually, but to help restore CMU hoops as a top program in the MAC.
“It’s just gonna take us growing together,” Ziegler said. “We’re really young, we had eight freshmen last year, so this year, we’ve got a chance to do something special.”