One of the most heart-warming stories so far this March in college hoops has been Detroit's unexpected run to the NCAA tournament, led by coach Ray McCallum and his son/star sophomore point guard Ray Jr.
The tale of Ray Jr., a former McDonald's All-American, choosing to stay home and help his father build a mid-major program from the ground up instead of heading off to the likes of UCLA, Arizona or Florida is unique.
But decisions like the one Ray Jr. made don't always end well, and on Wednesday, Trey Zeigler found that out the hard way.
From the same recruiting class, Zeigler — a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with an incredibly versatile game — chose to attend Central Michigan instead of Michigan, Duke or UCLA. The recruit ranked No. 28 nationally in the 2010 senior class chose, like McCallum Jr., to play for his father, Ernie Zeigler.
While Detroit's program has gone in one direction over the last two years, Central Michigan's flat-lined, and on Wednesday morning, Ernie Zeigler was fired after six seasons at the helm. It was his first head coaching job after spending seven seasons as a Division-I assistant at Kansas State, Bowling Green, Pitt and UCLA.
The school had to know that by doing so, it might be seeing its top hoops talent take a walk.
Trey tweeted "It's been real" on Tuesday morning after the news came down, but quickly deleted it from his account. Either way, it feels highly unlikely that he would stay in Mount Pleasant to help rebuild the program in the shadows of the college basketball world for someone other than his father. Plus, Ernie, a former Ben Howland assistant at both Pitt and UCLA before landing the CMU job in 2006, shouldn't have trouble finding a spot on a bench somewhere else.
As a freshman, Zeigler felt his way out as an immediate star for the Chippewas, who went just 10-21. He averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, but shot just 39.5 percent from the floor. He bumped his shooting average by almost seven percentage points, cut down on his turnovers and became a much more efficient player this season as a sophomore, despite his scoring average dipping slightly to 15.8 points per game. But his matured game didn't net results in the win-loss column, as CMU went just 11-21.
It's hard to blame the school for cutting its losses now, as Ernie Zeigler went just 75-111 over his six seasons and failed to post a winning record. He struggled to surround his son with talent the way McCallum has, and with a buyout of just $368,437 having to be paid to Zeigler and a year-old arena to pitch, Central Michigan could make a relatively impressive hire.
Zeigler's firing, though, could end up setting off one of the most heated recruiting battles of the spring in terms of Division-I transfers.
Zeigler's game is still relatively raw. His outside shot is inconsistent, and his career free throw percentage (53.0) is alarmingly low for someone with the ball in his hands as much as it is. It's tough to tell how different some of his numbers might look, though, if he doesn't have to carry as much of the load on the offensive end.
But the talent is undeniable, and several high-major Division-I programs will look closely if he in fact decides to leave campus. Zeigler could sit next season per NCAA transfer rules and still have two years of eligibility remaining starting in the 2013-14 campaign.
Let the battle begin?