Tennessee point guard Zakai Zeigler will complete his long journey back to the basketball court tomorrow when he takes the court for the Vols’ season opener against Tennessee Tech.
Zeigler tore his ACL in the opening minutes of Tennessee’s victory over Arkansas on the final day of February and has worked tirelessly to return to the court since. The junior guard has been a full participant in Tennessee practices open to the media but didn’t play in either of the Vols’ exhibition wins over Michigan State in Lenoir-Rhyne.
But that is changing in Tennessee’s regular season opener against Tennessee Tech according to head coach Rick Barnes.
“We haven’t yet really got to put the whole team together,” Barnes said on The Nation Sunday night. “We were hoping tomorrow will be the first time, and certainly it will be limited minutes for Zakai. But Jordan Gainey today wasn’t feeling well, missed practice.”
Gainey transferred to Tennessee this offseason and impressed this preseason including in a 20 point performance against Michigan State. The USC Upstate transfer is a combo guard who mostly plays shooting guard but can also run the point.
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Along with Gainey, Tennessee added Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht to its roster this offseason as well as talented redshirt freshman guard Freddie Dilione. Tying in the incoming players with a talented group of returning upperclassmen is a major emphasis for the Vols in their pre conference slate.
“I think we’re all excited,” Barnes said. “We’re all anticipating what is it going to look like? Because what we want to do is having a sustainable effort where we can really continue to be relentless in pursuit of the ball, pushing the ball, defensively— running cutters off. All that.”
Zeigler’s absence has made it hard for Tennessee to figure out rotations and how everyone meshes together. However, Zeigler returning for the start of the season gives Tennessee a good jump of blending the incoming and returning players.
The 5-foot-9 point guard earned Preseason All-SEC honors after averaging 10.7 points, 5.4 assists and two steals per game as a sophomore.
Tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena between Tennessee and Tennessee Tech is at 6:30 p.m. ET. SEC Network+ and ESPN+ is broadcasting the game.