The Washington Times-Herald

Local Sports

November 1, 2012

Zeller makes NBA debut

WASHINGTON — Tyler Zeller was taught there is no ‘I’ in team at a very young age.

Talking with Tyler's parents, Steve and Lori, through the years there is one thing that was always brought up was the team and how the main goal was for the team to succeed.

Tyler started his NBA career Tuesday night as Cleveland defeated Washington, 94-84. Zeller scored five points, hitting two of four from the field and one of two free throws.

Tyler, and brothers Luke and Cody, have always done what the team needed to win a game.

That has transferred to their life. I thought of a time, some years ago, when the boys were young, Luke 15, Tyler 12 and Cody nine. They, along with their dad, helped me lay rock at our house. It was a very hot day and we had been working a few hours when Tyler and Cody and my daughters Claudia and Malina started taking it easy.

Steve turned around and said to the boys, “Pick it up a notch. We need you.”

The boys kicked it in and got the job done.

“Effort is always important,” Zeller said. “It can make many things possible.”

From laying rocks to being a freshman player for the Hatchets, Tyler has always done whatever the team needed. He had the role as a practice player as a freshman, a rebounder and post player as a sophomore and junior and a team leader and role model as a senior.

As a North Carolina player, he had similar roles each of his four years. Fans in Cleveland will discover that he will do whatever the team needs from him to be successful.

“You just have to work hard everyday,” Zeller said of his ascent to the NBA. “The speed and athleticism of everyone on the court is the big difference between college and the NBA. They are the best players in the world, so you always have to be prepared.”

Kyrie Irving scored 29 points and Anderson Varejao had a career-high 23 rebounds for the Cavaliers. Rookie Dion Waiters added 17 points for the Cavs, who led by 16 in the third quarter but needed big plays from Irving and Varejao in the final minutes to hold off the Wizards, who scored the first 14 points of the fourth. Varejao had a career-high nine assists, two setting up dunks by Tristan Thompson in the last two minutes.

Jordan Crawford scored 11 points to lead the Wizards, who were without star point guard John Wall, power forward Nene and forward Kevin Seraphin. Wall, the former No. 1 overall pick, is expected to be out until late November with a knee injury.

Irving, the NBA’s reigning rookie of the year, began his second season with a strong performance alongside Waiters, a surprising No. 4 overall pick. Waiters didn’t start a game at Syracuse, but Cavs coach Byron Scott has been impressed with his progress and wanted to pair his two young guards together from the outset.

They played well in spurts, but made enough mistakes to keep Scott from giving them too much freedom.

The Cavs seemed to be on their way to a relatively routine win, but in a league where players are fond of saying “every team makes a run,” the Wizards made theirs.

Down 61-45 in the third quarter and looking flat, Washington opened the fourth with its 14-0 spurt, taking a 76-74 lead when Jannero Pargo drained a 3-pointer from the corner. The Wizards rallied while Irving was getting some rest, and it wasn’t long before Scott sent his young star back in to help restore order.

Despite Cleveland’s youth — an average age of 24.9 years — and inexperience, Irving believes the Cavs can contend for a playoff spot this season.

“That’s the goal,” he said.

The Cavs were in the playoff conversation for the first few months last season before Varejao broke his wrist and missed the final 41 games. As has been the case in the past, Varejao may draw trade interest from other teams and it will be interesting to see if the Cavs hang on to a player with unique talents.

Irving, who had four wisdom teeth pulled last week, hit his first shot of the season, a 3-pointer, and scored 12 points in the first quarter as the Cavs opened a 31-24 lead.

There was some early concern Tuesday that Superstorm Sandy may force the game to be postponed. However, the game proceeded, and a full house attended.

While the game was the first for the former Washington player, Zeller says he hopes he has a good career followed by giving back.

“I’m just hoping that I can play as long as possible, and then give back in some way,” Zeller said. “My parents have always been there for me. I will always remember our state run and the fan’s support throughout my career. Just working with the game and little kids would be good.”

The Associated Press and Staff members contributed to this story.

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