Tennessee basketball has reloaded this week, setting their sights on making a deeper run next year. The Volunteers added Justin Gainey, Chris Ledlum and Dalton Knecht, while also bringing back Santiago Vescovi. On paper, this Tennessee rotation looks stout, but there’s one variable left — and it’s the guy that makes it all go.
Zakai Zeigler is rehabbing a torn ACL, which was suffered during the last week of the regular season. The timing couldn’t have been worse, not only for Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but looking ahead to next year too. Can Zeigler be ready to go by November after tearing the ACL in March?
“We hope that we’ll have him for the start of the season, but we don’t know that timetable,” Rick Barnes said last week. “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.”
At minimal, Zeigler will miss a good chunk of preseason practice, likely costing him some chemistry with the new additions. Tennessee does have a big November to start the season, now complete with a trip to Wisconsin and an appearance in the Maui Invitational.
“He’s doing — I just left him,” Barnes continued. “He just finished up. He’s always the last one in there with (trainer) Chad (Newman) and (strength coach) Garrett (Medenwald). Just doing everything above and beyond. He’ll get back and be full speed. In terms of a timetable, we don’t know.”
Zeigler was averaging 10.7 points and 5.4 assists per game before he went down. He was playing his best basketball late, too, powering the Volunteers to massive wins over Texas and Alabama.
With Olivier Nkamhoua gone and Josiah-Jordan James seemingly gone, Zeigler will take an even bigger leadership role this season. Getting him back and in a groove ahead of SEC play is a must, and it sounds like he’ll have the opportunity to do just that.