Sammy Zeglinski's older brothers helped shape the Virginia guard

Virginia's Sammy Zeglinski is hugged by Jontel Evans following a win over Georgia Tech in January.
Virginia's Sammy Zeglinski is hugged by Jontel Evans following a win over Georgia Tech in January. (Andrew Shurtleff/associated Press)
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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 13, 2010

Zack and Joe Zeglinski watched on a computer screen from Hartford, Conn., both proud but neither surprised. Sammy Zeglinski, a Virginia guard who always had tried to top his older brothers, had just hit an acrobatic, buzzer-beating three-pointer against Virginia Tech to extend the rivalry game on Jan. 28 into overtime.

His brothers followed the game from their college residence, where they're roommates playing basketball for the University of Hartford. It was the type of shot Sammy hit while growing up as the third of four children, the youngest brother in an athletic family.

"He was always the little brother, and he had to learn to do things with the ball to compete with them," said John Zeglinski, who goes back and forth between Hartford and Charlottesville to watch his sons play. "His game, I think, is where it's at because of his brothers."

Zack and Joe were multi-sport stars with hearts set on starring in college football before knee injuries rerouted their ambitions. Sammy committed to play basketball for Virginia after his sophomore year of high school at Penn Charter in Philadelphia and did not play football his senior year -- just in case a torn anterior cruciate ligament struck the family a third time.

Now a third-year sophomore, Sammy could finish his career as a four-year starter at an ACC program. He currently sits second in the ACC in three-point shooting percentage (44 percent), with his biggest long-range shot the improbable three-pointer last month in the loss to the Hokies, whom the Cavaliers visit for a rematch on Saturday.

Through the fanfare, Sammy remains the younger brother. He trades barbs with his older brothers during summer games at Archbishop Ryan in Northeast Philadelphia, the type of fraternal duels that sometimes finish with none of the brothers talking to one another at the end.

Eight days after Sammy's shot was named the No. 3 play of the day on ESPN's "SportsCenter," Joe hit a game-winner against New Hampshire that earned No. 2.

"I need to figure out a plan to get to number one somehow," joked Zack, who started his collegiate career as a preferred walk-on football player at Penn State before taking up baseball at Temple and finally finishing his career as a walk-on basketball player at Hartford this season.

"I'll be the first one to tell anyone my brothers were better athletes than I was as far as athleticism," Sammy said. "They can jump higher than me, run faster. Only things that held them back was [hurting their knees]. It was upsetting. I always looked up to both of them. All the things that they accomplished inspired me through high school."

After receiving inconsistent minutes last season as a redshirt freshman, Sammy has discovered new life under first-year Coach Tony Bennett. Sammy and Sylven Landesberg are the only Virginia players to start every game this season. He trails only Landesberg in minutes played, leads the team in steals and has proved particularly capable in learning Bennett's defensive system and fitting within Bennett's offense.

"Tony Bennett has done a great job with the kid as far as giving him some leeway and giving him some confidence," John Zeglinski said. "Sammy always had the ability as a shooter. Last year, he looked over his shoulder too much. He was too worried about making a mistake than playing."

Bennett's reputation both as a player for Wisconsin-Green Bay and as a coach at Washington State, plus Bennett's desire for Sammy to become an extension of the coach on the court, factored in Sammy's decision to stay at Virginia instead of considering other options after Dave Leitao was fired.

"He's got a confidence about him," Bennett said. "I think he believes he can make a big shot, and he's not afraid to shoot it. He has sort of that toughness and that confidence that he can put a dagger in, as we say. But he's very team-oriented. He'll do whatever you ask of him, and I like his toughness that way."

At opposing venues, Zeglinski is often the focus of student sections' ridicule. At Wake Forest, fans booed whenever Zeglinski received the ball. At Duke last season, Zeglinski said fans compared him to a hockey player. And in a road game at Clemson, teammate Will Sherrill laughed when an opposing fan heckled Zeglinski about a scar on his shoulder.

"I guess they see me and I look just like them," Zeglinski said. "I take it as flattery."

But after growing up as the youngest brother in a family of athletes, opposing crowds can do little to affect Sammy. And together, they remain one another's biggest fans. Sammy tries to catch Hartford games on the Internet, and volunteered that Joe recently became the school's three-point shooting leader. His brothers watch all of Sammy's games and rave about the progress he's made -- and what's to come in the future.

"Maybe he was always trying to beat us. Maybe he always had something more to accomplish," Zack said. "If we talk, he keeps Joe level-headed, and I keep him level-headed. We share experiences. It's a good relationship. If something happens that's funny, we'll give him a hard time, and he'll do the same for us."

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