Norwin product Zach Bryan nears end of historic Carlow career
Norwin grad and Carlow basketball standout Zach Bryan might not have all of the natural athletic talent in the world, but tell him that he can't do something and he'll work hard enough to go out and do it.
Coming out of high school, Bryan had his heart set on playing Division II basketball for a school in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, but the offers didn't come.
Lucky for Bryan, he caught the eye of a Norwin rival in former Hempfield basketball coach Tim Keefer, who was in the market to find just the right player, and personality, to start a men's basketball program at Carlow.
“He was a four-year starter at Norwin and a point guard, and when you start a program and you have to have someone who gets knocked down and gets back up,” said Keefer, who spent two decades coaching at Oliver High School in the City League in addition to a stint at Penn State Greater Allegheny that included a championship in 2006. “A guy like Zach took a chance on us. He was our first freshman player.
“I got to coach against him for two games (a year), and we had to game plan for him and I knew he can handle pressure and I knew that our first year we were going to have to handle lots of pressure.”
Starting a program from the ground up is no easy task, but it was exactly what Bryan was looking for when he signed with Carlow. Carlow offered not only a top-notch education but the NAIA D-II school gave him the opportunity to play nonconference games against some of the schools that looked past him during the recruiting process.
“I always wanted to play in the PSAC and, in our nonconference schedule, we were going to play a lot of PSAC schools,” said Bryan, who will graduate from Carlow with a biology degree in May and graduate from UPMC's Perfusion Technology program next September. “I loved being in the city, and my coach actually introduced me to my major, which was a big part of why I committed. (The recruiting process) was nerve-racking because basketball sits heavy on me.”
The 5-foot-10 point guard has earned the distinction as one of the Celtics captains. Bryan leads Carlow (1-10, 1-2) in assists (33) and ranks second with 8.3 points per game.
“A point guard is supposed to distribute the ball,” Keefer said. “He went from scoring eight points a game to scoring a career-high 26. His productivity has increased as the years went by. He's just gotten stronger.”
Bryan's career high came in an 86-75 loss to River States Conference rival West Virginia Tech in late November. The scoring outburst was a product of the countless hours of training and practice Bryan has put in.
“He's the first one in the gym, last one out of the gym and he's always doing drills,” Keefer said. “The cool thing about him is he always has books and is always getting things done.”
Nothing came easy for the undersized Bryan, and he knew that going in. He understood that he needed to work twice as hard as his opponents if he was going to contribute. Bryan admits it was the discipline and work ethic that was instilled in him by his father (Richard), a former Marine, that has made the difference throughout his athletic career.
“I've been taught discipline, accountability and responsibility my whole life, so I enjoy the role,” Bryan said.
No matter how the season ends, Keefer said Bryan always will be remembered as the first athlete to commit to the Carlow men's basketball program, and he is forever appreciative of that.
“He has a lot of firsts out there,” Keefer said. “Who can say that you're the first ever (player) in a program? He was the first one to take a chance on us.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.