Zeller Q&A

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina center Tyler Zeller returned to action for the first time in 13 weeks since breaking his left wrist against Kentucky on Nov. 18. The freshman spoke to reporters following the win over N.C. State on Wednesday.

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On getting back into the flow:
"It's definitely different, having been out for 13 weeks, and especially the first eleven when I didn't get any physical action. I'm a little behind in reaction speeds, getting to places. That's why I got so many fouls. But it felt great to be back out there."

That first turnaround jumper—was that instinct taking over?
"Yeah, it was kind of all instinct on offense. Offense I'm fine, because I've been able to shoot, I've been able to do stuff. It was more on the defensive end, just reacting to people's drives, going around people, getting a hand in there to help—that's what I was struggling with."

On hearing the crowd's reaction while waiting to enter the game:
"It was one of those things where I expected it, but when you get 22,000 people cheering for you, it's a great feeling. It was amazing when I got up and went to the table. But when I got in and found out who I was guarding, I didn't really hear much after that."

How's the wrist feeling now?
"It feels fine. I don't really have any problems with it. No stiffness or anything. I'm still doing a little bit of rehab, trying to get the last little bit back. But for the most part I have all motion back and no pain."

What went into the decision to come back now instead of red-shirting?
"It was one of those things where I talked to coach about it a little bit, and then I just felt like it was the best thing for me to help me prepare for next year. In these games, I can learn a lot, which is, I can tell you, I already learned a lot from tonight's game. Just little things you have to work on to get better. You can't get that kind of experience if you don't play. I feel like I can help now, just our depth, just playing. It does get difficult in the ACC [Tournament] when you've got three games in a row, so I feel like I can help and give other guys a couple extra minutes' break so they can go in and play full force."

Are you concerned about giving up a whole season for the last five or six games?
"Um, yes, but no at the same time. Yes, because it is one of those things where I'm losing like half a season. But no at the same time because these are my teammates. I've got to help support them. If I can help them in any way, then I have to come back and help them. I feel like I'm obligated to them because they've been great to me the whole way I've been injured, and then as I come back. If there's anything I can do to help them, help them get to their goals, winning a national championship, then I want to help."

On ways he can help:
"Anything really. Rebounding, like I said, giving them a couple more minutes out. Score a little bit here and there. Just whatever I can find to do."

Did anybody say anything to help you relax pregame?
"Not really, no. I was thinking so much, I wasn't even really paying attention to what everybody else was doing. I was out there shooting and I was kind of off in my own world, just trying to get focused. And at the same time, I was trying to relax, stay loose and stuff. It was interesting trying to stay calm and get ready at the same time."

Did you have that feeling on the bench wondering when Coach was going to put you in?
"Yeah, I kept looking at the clock, wondering, is he going to put me in? I didn't really know. I was anxious, nervous. The guys on the bench were like, 'Are you nervous,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, a little nervous!'"

What's affected most when you're out as long as you were?
"Instincts. Reactions. Cutting off the baseline drive. I got a foul on a couple of those because I'm a step slower. Before I'd be able to get there and cut that off. But now I see it too slow. So it's just reaction times."

Is game shooting any different from practice shooting?
"A little bit, yes. Because you can't predict what they're going to do. If you go against the same teammates every day, if you go up and shoot a hook shot, you know how they're going to try and affect that. In a game you've got new players coming in, and you have to think about what they're going to do to try and stop you."

What was more anxious for you, coming out in November or coming back here tonight?
"I don't even know. Probably coming back tonight, just because last November, starting was a great thing, but it's the kind of thing where I've been playing basketball my whole life. This is the first time I've ever missed a practice, let alone thirteen weeks. So it's one of those things where, trying to come back, you don't know what you're going to do, where you're going to fit. I'm still kind of trying to find where I fit in best and what I do best."

How long did you personally deliberate over whether to come back?
"Um, it was about a week, a week and a half. I met with Coach. Then I met with him and my parents in a conference call. After that, Coach said "I'm going to leave it up to you," and my parents said "we're going to leave it up to you." So basically it was my decision. My parents and Coach did a great job giving me advice, giving a different point of view, but then I had to make the decision."

Did you feel any pressure?
"No, my parents have always been great about that, and Coach did the same thing. He's going to give me advice if I ask for it, but if not, he's going to let me make my decision. He's going to support the decision I make, and I'm very happy for that."

What did you work on during those thirteen weeks?
"Basically just physical strength. That's always been the criticism against me. I started lifting weeks after two or three weeks. I did a lot of legs. I did some one-armed bench, which is fun because you get like a 70-pound dumbbell in one arm and nothing in the other. So it was weird. But we did a lot of physical strength and then form shooting, getting shots up, anything I really could."

So what did it feel like getting out there?
"It was great. It's one of those things where after thirteen weeks you're a little rusty, you're not sure what's going on. Everything is going so fast, and you're trying to catch up. But at the same time it's nice to be back out there. I didn't really feel like a basketball player for a couple of those weeks when I wasn't playing. So it was just very nice to get back out there."

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