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Former Vol C.J. Watson is hyped for Tennessee PG Zakai Zeigler

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When you think of Tennessee basketball’s offense, the first person that most likely comes to mind is Dalton Knecht, the swingman who is considered one of the best college basketball players in the nation. However, there is another Vol who is consistently putting up numbers worth talking about – junior PG Zakai Zeigler – despite entering the season considered a game manager and defensive first point guard

Zeigler is coming off a team best 18 points in last Saturday’s game against Alabama while Knecht couldn’t find his shot. What makes the point guard position – and Zeigler – so special? We asked former Tennessee point guard C.J. Watson to give us his thoughts on the subject. 

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First and foremost, the role of a point guard is one of a leader. 

“He’s an extension of the coach,”  Watson said. “He sees things before they happen. You got to be a leader out there either verbally or non-verbally.” 

What about Zeigler’s approach to the point guard position stands out to a former NBA player like Watson? 

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“(It’s) what he brings on both ends of the court, offensively and especially defensively,” Watson observed. “He’s the first line of defense when the players bring the ball up. He definitely sets the tone right there.” 

Watson’s nickname is “Quiet Storm.” Zeigler’s could possibly be “Controlled Chaos”. One position – two different perspectives. Watson thinks it all comes down to the coaching.  

“I think the styles of play are kind of similar because we’re playing the same position,” Watson noted, pointing out that he played for Auburn coach Bruce Pearl when he was at Tennessee. “But (it’s) different because Bruce’s (Pearl) offense is totally different from (Tennessee coach) Rick Barnes’ offense. Bruce is more of an up-and-down type offense, and I think Barnes is more like a half-court offense.

“But these types of offenses only work if you have the right personnel on your team. “I think that’s why they struggled last year, because they couldn’t really score,” said Watson. But now they got Zeigler. He’s pushing the pace. He’s creating steals when they can score in transition and score off turnovers. That’s when they’re pretty good.” 

As March Madness begins to ramp up, what kind of advice would a veteran like Watson give the young Zeigler? Take it one game at a time. 

“You just gotta’ be in the moment,” Watson noted. “People try to think too far ahead. Sometimes you just gotta’ be in the moment and have fun. And, you know, just worry about what you can control.” 

What about Zeigler and the Tennessee team as a whole sets them up for success this March? 

“They play defense and your defense can travel,” noted Watson. “Your offense can be hit or miss, but with Dalton (Knecht) there, I think it’s a big offensive threat. And then that opens up so much stuff for everyone else.” 

It will be interesting to watch things open up for Zeigler during the tournament. Take Watson’s word for it. “He’s one of the best point guards you have seen.” And he should know.

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