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Good News! Zeller's Not Injury Prone Just Unlucky

Or the shoes suck.

A little basketball tidbit via CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish who spent this past weekend in Chapel Hill so he could write about UNC basketball and dive onto the ever growing UNC football dogpile. Since we are all pretty sick of the football scandal let's focus on the basketball angle shall we?

They focused on the importance of bouncing back from last season's nightmare, the arrival of heralded recruit Harrison Barnes, the criticism point guard Larry Drew has faced, so on and so forth. Pretty much what I expected, almost all of it fair and reasonable. What surprised me was how each magazine approached the subject of Tyler Zeller, UNC's 7-foot center whose history of injuries was referenced ad nauseam.

"The Tar Heels do need a healthy season out of Tyler Zeller," it was written in one magazine, and I can't argue with that. The only other bigs on UNC's roster are John Henson and Justin Knox. So, yes, the Tar Heels do indeed need a healthy season from Zeller. That's a true statement.

But here's a false one: "Zeller has been injury prone."

That sentence was in Lindy's Magazine.

I couldn't disagree with it more.

"I don't get mad when people say it," Zeller would later tell me as we sat in an empty Dean Smith Center, those six national championship banners hanging above us. "But it is frustrating."

In fairness, it's easy to look at Zeller's college career, see that he missed 23 games as a freshman with a broken wrist, 10 more as a sophomore with a stress fracture in his right foot, and surmise that he's injury prone. I understand how it happens. But a closer look suggests it's an unfair label. For starters, the broken wrist was suffered when Kentucky's Ramon Harris hammered Zeller on an attempted dunk in transition, which caused Zeller to fall violently on his wrist. So his wrist snapped -- just like my wrist would've snapped or your wrist would've snapped.

"It was a freak accident," Zeller said, and yet that accident is at least partly responsible for the "injury prone" label. Dude broke his wrist when he fell on it on a hardwood surface after being hit midair in transition, and that's why he's described as "injury prone." Seriously? That's like calling a man "death prone" when a drunk driver runs a red light, T-bones him and kills him instantly.

That doesn't make somebody "death prone."

It makes them unlucky.

Well, that makes it better...I think.

The wrist injury was a freak accident. If you watch as much as college basketball as I watch, you see hard fouls committed on a regular basis. Almost no one is injured the way Zeller was injured that night vs Kentucky. The stress fracture is more problematic in my mind since Zeller was the latest in a seemingly growing line of Tar Heels suffering lower leg or foot injures. In the past few years Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard, Tyler Hansbrough and Zeller have all missed games due to either shin injuries or weird foot issues. Add to that Ty Lawson, Will Graves, Ed Davis and probably others I cannot think of right now have all had significant ankle sprains. Shoe problems? Bad floor at the Smith Center? Not enough milk in these guys' diet?

As for Zeller, the two injuries are not the only reason the injury prone label has been applied. Zeller is also easily jostled in the post, has a tendency to play below his height and is not the strongest player on the court. Like John Henson his weight is a little on the low side. In other words, he looks fragile and having two injuries does nothing to dissuade that thinking. Yes, UNC needs a healthy Zeller since the frontcourt will be thin as is but UNC also needs a Zeller who plays with strength and toughness in the post. That is one of two or three areas on which the upcoming season will hinge between average and very good.