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Meet New Wizards Asst. Don Zierden

Wizards fans aren't likely very familiar with Don Zierden, the former CBA head coach, NBA assistant, and WNBA coach who joined Flip Saunders's staff this spring.

Heck, many players still aren't totally familiar with him; they universally call the assistant "Z," and when I asked Nick Young about working with Zierden, he had no idea who I was talking about.

Zierden will coach the Wiz Summer Leaguers Friday night against the Timberwolves and Saturday against Blake Griffin and the Clippers, so this seemed to be an appropriate time to learn some more. I'll be writing a full story for Saturday's paper, but suffice it to say, Zierden and Saunders have been colleagues at nearly every level imaginable; they played pickup against each other as college kids, worked together at the University of Tulsa and in the CBA, with the Timberwolves and with the Pistons, and now again with the Wizards. They've spent something like two decades together professionally, and have known each other for nearly 40 years.

It's a pretty neat story, not least because they explicitly dreamed about doing this together when they were young up-and-comers with the La Crosse Catbirds in the CBA. CBA coaches weren't cashing huge checks at the time, and the franchise had a deal with Ponderosa, so the two guys would go to the steakhouse after every morning shootaround and spend two or three hours, just reading the sports pages and talking about basketball: different plays, different schemes, where they were going with their careers, what was going on in the NBA, and whether they'd ever get a chance to work at the highest level of their game.

They've spent more hours together than Zierden can count, and the things they did 10 and 20 years ago will still affect this year's Wizards team.

One season, after they lost a playoff opener to the Quad City Thunder, Saunders and Zierden retreated into Saunders's basement and commandeered his young son Ryan's easel board. They stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning drawing plays, and they went on to win the series. The plays they designed that day remain part of their arsenal.

"You can't make this up," Zierden told me. "I've talked to Flip about it, we reminisce from time to time. I think that's kind of a neat story. It shows people that this happens all the time, but if you sit and you plan and you dream and you're willing to work hard for it, things can happen."

The rest of the story will be up here later this afternoon.

By Dan Steinberg  |  July 17, 2009; 1:31 PM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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Comments

Nothing like having a guy you completely trust as your right-hand man. I know it's early but I'm starting to like the possibilities for this season.

Posted by: Firuz1 | July 17, 2009 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Nothing like having a guy you completely trust as your right-hand man. I know it's early but I'm starting to like the possibilities for this season.

Posted by: Firuz1 | July 17, 2009 10:21 PM | Report abuse

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