Postseason Preview with Play-by-Play Man, Scott Zurilla
The Charge wrapped up their third playoff appearance in as many years of existence two weekends ago and will begin their postseason journey against the Sioux Falls Skyforce later this week.
Since the squad’s inception three years ago, the team’s play-by-play duties have been handled by one man – Scott Zurilla. And this year, he’s watched the season unfold for Steve Hetzel’s squad. And he’ll be behind the mic when the postseason tips off later this week.
Cantoncharge.com sat down with the voice behind the Charge – a guy known in most circles as “Z-Man” – who takes a look at Canton’s rollercoaster regular season and what they’ll be up against when Sioux Falls comes to the Memorial Civic Center this Thursday night …
At first glance, what do you make of the matchup between Canton and Sioux Falls?
Scott Zurilla: As far as the top defensive teams in the league this year, it’s pretty much been the Charge and Sioux Falls all season – pretty much Charge, No.1, Sioux Falls, No. 2.
The advantage for the Charge is that I don’t know if there’s another team that matches up with them up-front, with their four guys: (Kyrylo) Fesenko, (Arinze) Onuaku, (Shane) Edwards and (Olek) Czyz. The strength of the Skyforce is their perimeter guys – Larry Drew II, Tre Kelley and DeAndre Liggins, Anthony Mason Jr. plays big, but he’s kind of a wing guy. And there’s Henry Walker (who used to be known as Bill Walker). So they’re more of a perimeter-oriented team.
So really it’s their perimeter guys vs. our bigs. Gilbert Brown’s good on the perimeter, Antoine Agudio has played well. (Sergey) Karasev is back and Scotty Hopson was assigned, which will help.
I don’t want to say I’m ‘concerned,’ but now that we picked up Justin Johnson, we have a real nice backup point guard. One of our strengths was Gutierrez and Ben Uzoh, and now you don’t have either one of them. Although Will Cherry has been a godsend.
Do you see either team modifying their style for this matchup?
Zurilla: It seems like you just play to your strengths. Since both teams are defensive-oriented they’re not just going to start running and gunning.
Canton is first in the league in opponents’-points-against, tops in field goal percentage – but last in the league in scoring. The Charge are 15th and 17th in field goals made and attempted. So they don’t shoot a lot, but what they take, they make. They only take 80 shots per game, but they make 38. And that’s not going to change.
Sioux Falls was 13th in the league in scoring, and they’re No. 2 in points against. So they’re both going to play to their strengths, which is good, tough defense – although even that is a little different. The Charge are more principled and stay within the system defensively. Sioux Falls relies more their athletic wing guys. They’re also No. 3 in the league in steals. That’s probably the biggest difference defensively.
Playoff seedings in the D-League are much different than the NBA’s. How did this matchup come about?
Zurilla: The Charge were the 7th seed, so they were in the bottom four among playoff teams. And the top four select their opponent. None of the top three picked the Charge. So, in a way, Sioux Falls got stuck with us.
Fort Wayne – No. 1, didn’t pick us. L.A., No. 2 – they didn’t pick us. Iowa, No. 3 – they didn’t pick us. So, Sioux Falls, at No. 4 – this is who you get. The thing is: nobody wants to face Canton’s massive front line.
What kind of job has first-year head coach Steve Hetzel done, especially through all the roster changes and injuries?
Zurilla: I just think he’s done a great job.
What I tell everybody is: What’s so much fun is meeting the coaches ahead of time and getting to know who they are as people and understanding that they don’t have any head coaching experience. Then you start watching them, and the first couple of games they’re kind of quiet and reserved. Then after a couple more games, they’ll say a little more. But one of the great things I always notice about Steve in games is that he never blows up. He’s so quiet and reserved, and he’s such a nice guy, he does get emotional, but he has a slow burn. You know he wants to lose it, but he just doesn’t.
But he’s not apprehensive about getting on the officials anymore. He takes good timeouts. He pulls guys aside. He’s constantly barking at guys to go here or there.
I’m no expert, but I know enough that I’ve seen him go from a guy that knows basketball but hasn’t coached yet to a guy you can see 50 games in who has definitely become a head coach. He’s done a great job.
We’ll talk to him before each game and he doesn’t waver, he doesn’t make excuses. It’s: “That’s the way the D-League is. Guys come and go.” Guys get called up, get sent down. Through all the changes, he’ll just say: “That’s the D-League.”
After one trip, I think it was returning from Springfield. They got home at 5 a.m. and they had a 3 p.m. game that day. Steve said: “We were all exhausted; I didn’t know what to expect.” Well, they won that game.
He always preaches to the guys: “One game at a time; no excuses. If you have to play at 3 o’clock after getting in at 5 – let’s go play, you can sleep after.”
He just has a great attitude and it rubs off on me and Josh Weir (of the Canton Repository) and Sean (Wyatt, PR Director for the Charge) – the three guys who talk to him all the time. So you know it rubs off on the players.
Let’s talk about some of the players that got Canton back to the postseason. What have you seen from a guy like Olek Czyz, who joined the team midway through the season?
Zurilla: When I went to a preseason game in Fort Wayne and he was still with the Mad Ants, after about two minutes, I said to Sean Wyatt: “Man, I like this Czyz kid! He can play!”
He’s got a non-stop motor, he’s athletic, he gets off the floor, he goes to the glass, he defends. The guy is just active and because he’s got pogo sticks for legs, he’s just always on the glass. He had this leaning, double-clutch, left-handed windmill dunk that was just awesome.
And he can shoot the three – he’s got a decent shot. But he doesn’t force them. He’s very good in that sense in that, just because he can make the three doesn’t mean he always takes them.
He was a reserve for most of the season, but he seemed to take it OK. But once he got an opportunity to start, he was one of those guys – he got an opportunity to start and he just took advantage of it. He’s a monster.
With Jorge Gutierrez being signed by Brooklyn and Ben Uzoh being limited by injury, how big was the arrival of Will Cherry?
Zurilla: Well you really needed somebody. And when they brought him in, we were talking with Coach and asked, ‘What’s up with this Will Cherry?’ Coach said he’s a hard-nosed, defensive kid. Pretty solid.
But, man, he’s another guy: when he was handed the keys, he ran with it. He hits his shots, he runs the offense, he’s rugged and he gets rebounds. He’s built like a football player. But here’s a guy who came in – you needed a backup point guard, and when he was given the opportunity he said: ‘It’s mine.’ And he’s been really good ever since.
As long as we’re talking newcomers – how good has Kyrylo Fesenko been in just a short time?
Zurilla: He’s another big guy who doesn’t try to do too much. He’s not afraid to use his size and bang down low, and he has a good touch from the outside.
The first game he was with us, I remember Coach saying, he’ll get about 5-6 minutes a half. Whoever it was at the time, he got in foul trouble, and Fesenko had to play around 20 minutes that night. And Coach said, ‘I’ll ride him as long as I can, as long as he’s got some wind.’ And (Fesenko) was hurting! But you know what: You run hard, you play hard – that’s all Steve asks.
That seems to be a common denominator – when guys got the opportunity, they took full advantage.
Zurilla: That’s kind of the mantra of the league: Come in, get an opportunity, and make the best of it. If you don’t want to be a team guy in the D-League, you won’t be in the D-League. If you want to be a team guy in the D-League, you will – and you’ll give yourself an opportunity to be seen in the NBA. It depends what you want to do. You can always go to Europe, and we’ve seen plenty of guys do it.
Cavs fans didn’t get to see too much of rookie Sergey Karasev, but you did. What can you tell fans about his game?
Zurilla: He’s so smooth and he just knows how to play. And I’ve said it a couple times (and I hate to say it) but there’s only a few guys that we’ve EVER seen that can pass the ball like this: HE knows you’re open and YOU don’t.
And he’s one of those guys: he’s effortless when he passes. He’s quick with either hand, he’s shifty. He’s not overly-athletic, but he’s so smart. He just knows how to play. He’s such a great passer, he’s got that feel, it’s innate. He can snap off a jumpshot, like that – and he’s got a lightning-quick release. He’s just fun to watch.
When I see he’s been assigned, I get excited to watch him play. He might not light up the scoreboard, but he just makes a difference in the game because he does so many things that you have to be aware of him.
We’ve talked about some newcomers, but what about the team’s rock over the past two seasons – two-time All-Star, Arinze Onuaku?
Zurilla: Arinze would have to be the team’s MVP this season. He was No. 2 in the league in field goal percentage and I think he wound up No. 3 in rebounds. He just makes such an impact on the game.
That’s why, with him and Fesenko together, there’s no team in the league that can match their size. And you can split them – you put one in, you take one out and you’re not really losing anything.
He’s so good, there’s really nobody that matches him in the league. And it changes the complexion of the game when he’s in there. He clogs the defense. On the offensive end, you have to double him, because he will just muscle you down and score over you on the block. And when you double, he is a willing passer and he’s a pretty good passer. And when he gets doubled, he doesn’t always just make the easy pass back to the entry guy, he’ll skip pass. He does a lot of things well.
If Onuaku is the team’s MVP, who’s been the squad’s most underrated player?
Zurilla: That would have to be Shane Edwards. He’s played center, he’s played small forward, power forward. He’s started, he’s come off the bench. He shoots over 50 percent. Shane’s done everything for the Charge this year.
Final question: How do you see the playoff series between Canton and Sioux Falls shaping up?
Zurilla: It’s going to be a very good series. It’s hard to pick a favorite.
It’s going bigs against smalls. They’re last in the league in rebounding, but they have so much wing talent and wing basketball, when you have guys like that on the perimeter, it’s hard to defend. I don’t know if they’ll try to run any more than they already do, but there’s a chance they could go extra-small because I remember the last time we played them, I believe there were stretches where they were playing Walker at the center.
In the playoffs, most of the time, it’s a matter of trying to impose your style on your opponents. So we’ll see which style wins out.
So, maybe it’s the homer in me saying it, but I feel really good about this series. I do. Let’s put it this way: There’s a reason the top three teams didn’t choose the Charge.