Talib Zanna helps lead Pittsburgh into NCAA Tournament

Junior forward Talib Zanna (a 2009 All-Met from McNamara) and his Pittsburgh Panthers will take on Wichita State on Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City.

Talib Zanna

Pitt forward Talib Zanna (middle), a McNamara grad, ranks among the school’s Top 10 in career field goal percentage. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Zanna, a starter averaging 9.8 points and 6.0 rebounds, is ninth on the Panthers’ career field goal percentage list at .536.

I spoke this week to Zanna, who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria in 2006, to run him through a series of questions related to his McNamara days.

Best high school basketball memory: “When we played DeMatha at home [a 52-46 loss] my senior year that was one of the best games I ever played at McNamara. All the seniors played hard and we just wanted to make history there. They had James Robinson [Zanna's current Pitt teammate], Victor Oladipo, Naji Hibbert and Josh Selby [and Quinn Cook, Marcus Rouse, Jerian Grant and Mikael Hopkins]. It was a great experience. It was really intense.”

Favorite high school gym other than McNamara’s:Gonzaga, just because you have the fans. They’re passionate for their players and the game too and the gym was always packed with a lot of people. It’s a small gym but a good place.”

Best player you faced in high school: “I’m going to say Vlad [Moldoveanu of St. John's]. He was a post player but he had an outside game so it was kind of tough for me.”

Best piece of basketball advice you got in high school: “They told me to keep working, keep playing hard. Keep believing in yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you what you can do.”

High school loss that stung the most: “When we played DeMatha in the playoffs at American U in the semifinals. That was a loss that I will never forget. It was a tie game with like 38 seconds left and if we had gotten a stop I think we would have won the game and made it to the finals. They made a shot and then we ran down and it was a turnover and they won the game. That was my last high school basketball game.” It was Zanna’s last WCAC game, but his final high school game was a 65-61 loss to DeMatha at the Alhambra tournament a few weeks later.

Piece of advice for high school players: “Keep working hard. Be positive. Listen to your coaches because you never know who’s watching you when you play. Be a team player.”

What I miss the most about high school basketball: “Early morning practice 6 a.m. before school starts, the weight room, conditioning. How we always have fun in practice and how we get after it. Everybody would wake up and come to the gym. And the road trips, too.”

Best thing about college basketball: “It’s real intense. You’ve got to be physical. It’s different than high school.”

Worst thing about college basketball: “You have to do what the coach says. In high school you can play your own game. In college you have to stay with the principles and the program, the structure, and play that style.”

When I hear the words March Madness I think: “Intense. Toughness. Physical. Just energy. There are going to be a lot of upsets during this month because if you play a mid-major school you might just overlook them so you just have to go and play just like you’re playing somebody ahead of you.”

Locals in the NCAA tournamentMen (30) | Women (25)

Top high school athletes make their Final Four picks

Previously: Middle Tennessee State’s Massey looks to relish March Madness

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