11 DayZ of Z: A Starring Role

March 1, 2014
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Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Zydrunas Ilgauskas made his first visit to All-Star Weekend in his first full year in 1998 – taking home MVP honors at the Schick Rookie Game in New York.

And after wrapping up that year on a high note – averaging 13.9 points and 8.8 boards in 82 regular season games and 17.3 and 7.5 in a four-game playoff series against the Pacers – it looked like Z would be back at All-Star Weekend the next season and the one after that.

But foot problems again sidelined Ilgauskas’ career. One year after winning MVP of the Rookie Game, and after playing just five games as a sophomore, Z was diagnosed with a season-ending fracture of the navicular bone in his left foot. Big Z missed the next season entirely, undergoing surgery to reshape his foot in late January.

After two years of surgery and rehab, Big Z returned to the lineup to start the 2000-01 season and was leading the surprising Cavaliers to a 15-8 record. But on December 24 he was diagnosed with a new fracture of the navicular bane in his left foot and had season-ending surgery on February 7. The Cavs went 15-44 the rest of the way.

Big Z stuck with it and returned the following season, playing in 62 games and averaging 11.1 ppg.

But the following season – 2002-03 – Ilgauskas returned to his rookie form, upping his scoring average to 17. 2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He missed the first contest of the year, but in his second game went for 17 points and 22 boards against Phoenix and it was apparent that Big Z was back.

He notched double-figures in every game but five and had a dozen double-doubles before the midseason break and was deservedly named to his first All-Star Game, joining the East squad in Atlanta.

The game’s significance was that it was Michael Jordan’s final All-Star appearance. Kevin Garnett was voted MVP and the West won, 155-145. Big Z played sparingly – just four minutes –missing the only field goal he attempted.

Ilgauskas played 81 games the following season as well, putting up solid numbers once again. And the following year, as the Wine and Gold’s revival was beginning to take shape, Z found himself back in the midseason classic – going into the All-Star Break after notching 30 points and 11 boards against in a big road win over the Lakers.

In the 2005 All-Star Game, Ilgauskas was joined by teammate LeBron James and saw more action than in his first go-round. The game was played in Denver and the East took the 125-115 victory, with Allen Iverson taking MVP honors. Big Z played 17 minutes, going 5-for-8 from the floor and 2-of-2 from the stripe for 12 points to go with seven boards and a pair of blocked shots.

The Large Lithuanian didn’t make another All-Star team, but he did average double-digit scoring for the next four seasons while continuing to rewrite the Cavaliers record book.


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