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Zakai Zeigler happy to be back with Tennessee after not getting to travel for first two games of the NCAA Tournament

Zeigler couldn't travel after getting surgery for his torn ACL injury. He is back in the locker room and on the bench with the team now. His teammates are glad.
Credit: AP
Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler gestures during practice before a Sweet 16 college basketball game at the NCAA East Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

NEW YORK — Zakai Zeigler still traveled with Tennessee despite tearing his ACL in the home finale for the Vols against Arkansas on Feb 28.

His season came to an end early in the first half of that matchup, but his presence and impact in the locker room continued. Zeigler traveled for UT's regular-season finale against Auburn on the road. He also went to the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

However, Zeigler was unable to travel for the first two games of the NCAA Tournament after getting surgery. That was not ideal for him, but he said he is happy now to be back.

His teammates and coaches spoke with him over a video call after both of their wins, keeping him involved as they marched on to the Sweet 16. He spent that time at home in Knoxville, watching the games with his mom and nephew. When Tennessee beat Duke, he went wild.

"I was hype," he said with excitement. "Me and my mom were hype. We were screaming around, my nephew was screaming and running around. I was crutching around. I was crutching around. I couldn't really run or jump or anything but I was crutching around."

He said being at home watching the games made him feel like a kid again. Now, he is just glad to be back where he feels he belongs.

"Now that I'm back with my team, they come to mess with me all the time and it's just really good. They're keeping me up no matter what and spend time around me as much as possible," he said.

His team is glad he's back around too.

"The things Zakai brings to us even off the court, just his presence being around, it just brings so much joy and happiness to the team," said Uros Plavsic, Tennessee forward. "Just having him back with us on the road is unbelievable, just an unbelievable feeling and we are happy to have him."

"I mean it's great," Vols forward Jonas Aidoo said. "He's got a smile on his face. He's back in his home state. I mean what else could you ask for Zakai to be with us and always have his voice there with us and just a great leader to have at all times."

Zeigler is taking in the games in a different way now, focused on getting the team better and sharing what he is seeing on the court from the bench like a coach.

He will continue to do so as the Vols take on Florida Atlantic in the Sweet 16 on Thursday at 9 p.m. The game will be televised on TBS.


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