A big part of the 3-0 start for the Pitt Panthers has been the improved play of power forward Talib Zanna, who has been nothing short of outstanding through three games.
Zanna, who has averaged 5.2 points per game throughout his collegiate career thus far, came out and set a career-high in the Panthers opener against Mount St. Mary’s, dropping 20 on the Mountaineers, a total he matched against Lehigh on Tuesday night.
The scoring is great for a Pitt team that many felt could struggle scoring the ball, but Zanna has improved so much in every area that he completely looks like a different player.
Zanna has developed a mid-range jumper that he has knocked down on a consistent basis. He’s running the floor well and aggressively looking for the ball on the offensive end of the floor. In addition Zanna is attacking the glass at both ends of the floor and playing rock solid defense.
The key to Zanna’s improved play has been the aggressiveness, but more importantly he is a guy that has confidence now. That’s something he never had before and it is showing up in a big way.
“I worked very hard in the offseason,” said Zanna. “I worked on developing a jump shot and just wanted to be more aggressive to the point that when my opportunities come, I can take advantage of them. I have a lot more in my game now than ever before and I feel like I have been getting into a rhythm. I will do whatever it takes to help us win.”
In each of Pitt’s first three games, one of the power forwards have scored 20 points, with J.J. Moore dropping 20 on Fordham when Dixon decided to go small. That’s a position that maybe some people didn’t expect a lot from coming into the year, but if the Zanna-Moore combo can be productive, it is a bonus for the Panthers.
So far on the season, Zanna has averaged 16 points, 4.3 rebounds and one block per game all while shooting a remarkable 75 percent (21-of-28) from the floor.
But if you look at the Zanna-Moore combo, they have averaged 28.3 points and seven rebounds per game, something that wouldn’t be possible without all of the work Zanna put in in the offseason.
“He closed the season pretty strong last year,” said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. “He has built off that success in a big way. He worked his butt off in the gym and it is showing. The 4 is a more natural position for him and he’s running the floor well and doing so much for us. But it all starts with confidence and he is more confident than he has even been before.”
Zanna’s continued production will be huge for the Panthers as the season progresses.
Sitting next to an Indiana Pacers scout against Lehigh, he marveled about Zanna, saying: “He looks like a different player. He didn’t have any of this last season.”
He’s right and if Zanna continues to get better, he’s just another weapon for Dixon’s team.
If anything, Zanna is the classic story of hard work paying off.
Photo Credit: Associated Press