Instead, it was the Tennessee sophomore point guard standing in the paint, shooting flat-footed in another step forward in his rehab of the torn ACL he suffered on February 28.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Thursday night during the Big Orange Caravan stop in Knoxville that his “hope” is that Zeigler will be available when the Vols open the 2023-24 season in November.
“We hope that we’ll have him for the start of the season,” Barnes told reporters inside the Anderson Training Center, “but we don’t know that timetable. I know he will do everything he possibly can to be ready as quickly as he can, but obviously we’re going to make sure he’s 100 percent totally healthy.”
Zakai Zeigler hoping to be able to ‘move around’ in August or September
Zeigler said last month he wants to “push” toward an August or September return.
“That’s my personal goal,” Zeigler said. “I just want to push toward that. Not so much being able to be fully active, but to be able to move around and just try to get on the court somewhat.”
Zeigler had surgery on March 13, two weeks after he went down in the opening minutes of Tennessee’s win over Arkansas in Knoxville. He drove baseline and crumpled to the ground after suffering the non-contact injury.
Barnes said Thursday that Zeigler had just finished a workout before Barnes made his way to the caravan stop on campus.
“He’s always the last one in there with (trainer) Chad (Newman) and (strength coach) Garrett (Medenwald),” Barnes said. “Just doing everything above and beyond. He’ll get back and be full speed. In terms of a timetable, we don’t know.”
At the time of the injury, Zeigler was tied with Olivier Nkamhoua as Tennessee’s second-leading scorer, averaging 10.7 points per game. He led the Vols in assists (161) and steals (59). He recorded his fifth double-double of the season in the win over South Carolina just days before suffering the season-ending injury.
Tennessee’s new-look roster will be tested early in 2023-24 season
There will be new faces in the backcourt and on the wing regardless of when Zeigler returns.
Next season Tennessee will add four-star combo guard Freddie Dilione and wing DJ Jefferson, two redshirt freshmen, to the rotation. The Vols also add four-star forward JP Estrella, four-star wing Cameron Carr and three-star power forward Cade Phillips.
The Vols this week got three NCAA Transfer Portal commitments from USC Upstate guard Jordan Gainey, Harvard forward Chris Ledlum and Northern Colorado wing Dalton Knecht. Senior guard Santiago Vescovi also announced that he’ll be returning for his fifth season in the program.
Tennessee will go to Michigan State for a closed scrimmage in late October and will either play a home exhibition game in Knoxville or will play another neutral-site exhibition game for charity, like the one played against Gonzaga in Frisco, Texas last November.
The Vols on Thursday announced a road game at Wisconsin on November 10. They will also play three games in the Maui Invitational November 20-22, with the bracket yet to be announced. The eight-team field is loaded with the Vols competing alongside Gonzaga, Kansas, Marquette, Purdue, Syracuse, UCLA and Chaminade.
“(The schedule is) going to help these young guys early,” Barnes said.
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