I heard that it was one of my grandfather's biggest dreams to play (at Madison Square Garden) and once he finally had an opportunity to, he gave it his all and went out and won the NIT. He was a freshman at the time also. So I’m kind of in the same position as him. It’s kind of ironic how it’s the same. —BYU freshman guard Zac Seljaas
NEW YORK CITY — Having arrived Sunday with his team, BYU freshman guard Zac Seljaas is in the Big Apple for the first time in his life.
But he’s carrying the family legacy into the National Invitation Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
The second-seeded Cougars face top-seed Valparaiso Tuesday (5 p.m., MST, ESPN).
Seljaas’ grandfather, Carlos Asay, played for the University of Utah team that won the 1947 NIT championship. Like Seljaas, Asay was also a freshman when he played in the NIT.
“I heard that it was one of my grandfather's biggest dreams to play (at Madison Square Garden) and once he finally had an opportunity to, he gave it his all and went out and won the NIT,” Seljaas said. “He was a freshman at the time also. So I’m kind of in the same position as him. It’s kind of ironic how it’s the same.”
There are more similarities between Seljaas and his grandfather. After the Utes won the NIT in 1947, Asay departed for an LDS mission. Seljaas, a 6-foot-7 sharpshooting guard from Bountiful, recently received his mission call to the Iowa Des Moines Mission and he departs on May 18.
Before playing at Utah, Asay served 22 months in the Army in World War II as a staff sergeant. Later, he was called as a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1976 until his death in 1999.
And there’s even more to Seljaas’ family legacy when it comes to basketball. His older sister, Nancy Seljaas Warner, played basketball for BYU from 2002-2006.
Warner was at the Marriott Center last Tuesday when BYU knocked off Creighton in the NIT quarterfinals. Her brother scored 19 points, and made 5 of 6 shots from the floor — all 3-pointers.
The Cougars needed that kind of effort from Seljaas that night because senior Kyle Collinsworth was battling the flu. He started in Collinsworth's place in the lineup.
Warner wasn’t surprised to see her younger brother come through in a big moment.
“That’s just him. I’m a super-proud older sister. To watch him knock down those shots was so exciting,” said Warner, who is the girls’ basketball coach at Lone Peak High School. “He lives for those big moments. He doesn’t add pressure to himself. He came out in that game knowing he’d have to step up a little bit."
“Zac Seljaas was really good for us in the first half and he was really good in the second half, too. He had a great game,” said coach Dave Rose. “He grew up and took a huge role. This is a tremendous game for anybody, let alone a first-year player that’s really put in a spot. The minutes are the key thing. He played 37 minutes and got most of (Collinsworth’s) minutes and he was really effective.”
Seljaas has been a key catalyst in BYU’s NIT run. In the three tournament games, he’s hit 9 of 12 3-pointers and scored 38 points. For the season, he is averaging 7.8 points per game and is 67 of 130 from 3-point range (52 percent).
Seljaas has exceeded everyone’s expectations this season, including his own.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect to have this much going. I expected it to be more of a learning experience going in, which it has been,” he said. “It’s gone by really fast. I was able to learn and then halfway through the season I was able to play more and help the team as much as I can.”
Before the season began, Seljaas considered redshirting.
“I didn’t know if I could sit out a whole year,” he said. “It was a consideration but there wasn’t much thought into it.”
"He’s such a humble kid," Warner said. "The way the season’s played out, it’s a testament to his attitude and work ethic. A kid like Zac, he’s always been a hard worker at everything he does. He’s so positive about everything. He lets things roll off his shoulder and keeps going.”
Seljaas has attracted also attention because of the short-style shorts that he wears during games.
“It all started with him injuring his shoulder (earlier this season). Before that, he wore the tights beneath his shorts,” Warner explained. “When he injured his shoulder, he couldn’t get the tights on. He stopped wearing the tights. Now you can see his legs. His shorts have always been that short. He’s always been a double-roller — he double-rolls his shorts’ waistband. It’s more comfortable for him.”
Seljaas, who is the youngest of four children in his family, frequently talks hoops with Nancy — who is almost 14 years older than him — and his dad, Gary, who played basketball at BYU-Hawaii.
“My sister has had a big influence on me. I’ve always looked up to her,” Zac said. “She’s always helping me. Her and my dad help me to stay in the moment and not to get ahead of myself and stay calm.”
“My dad was my coach growing up and he was Zac’s coach growing up,” Warner said. “Our family has been raised playing basketball, watching basketball and loving basketball.”
Growing up, Zac attended his sister’s games at BYU.
“My old teammates remember him running up and down the stands at the Marriott Center watching our games. He was a little guy then,” Warner recalled. “We’ve always been super close. We have a special relationship with similarities of having played at BYU and that connection. I’m proud of what he’s done this season and hopefully his team can continue playing well for the next two games in New York.”
While Zac Seljaas is continuing the family legacy at BYU, he would like nothing more than to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and win an NIT championship of his own.
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