Panthers in the Pros: Patterson, Maddox and Zeuch


David Maialetti/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

Philadelphia Eagles’ Avonte Maddox, right, tackles the Dallas Cowboys’ Cole Beasley, left, during the second quarter on Nov. 11, 2018, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

By Stephen Thompson, Staff Writer

Despite some disappointing results in the present day, Pitt Athletics has turned out a high number of professional athletes in the past. Former Pitt men’s basketball, baseball and football players have made the most of some limited opportunities. Although they were underrated prospects after leaving Pitt, Lamar Patterson, Avonte Maddox and TJ Zeuch are spending their time professionally proving they belong.


Lamar Patterson

Former Panther Lamar Patterson, a 6-foot-5 swingman, is a throwback to what many remember as the golden era of Pitt basketball. After suffering an ankle injury, Patterson opted to sit out his first year as a medical redshirt. Every season after, he improved his scoring average, rising from 2.6 points per game as a redshirt sophomore to 17.1 per game in his final season.

It was in his final season, when he was a redshirt senior, that Patterson finally exploded onto the national scene. As Pitt made its transition to the ACC, Patterson made a transition of his own, from role-player to bona fide star in one of the nation’s best college basketball conferences. He led the Panthers to their second-straight NCAA tournament berth, was named to the second-team All-ACC team and was an AP All-American honorable mention.

After leaving Pitt, Patterson was drafted 48 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2014 NBA Draft and was promptly traded to the Atlanta Hawks on draft night. In the summer of 2015, after playing a season for Tofas of the Turkish Basketball League, Patterson signed with the Hawks.

Patterson made his NBA debut on Oct. 27, 2015, tallying five points and two assists in a loss to the Detroit Pistons, but was never able to stick. He spent most of the 2015 season in the NBA’s Development League with the Austin Spurs and the Canton Charge before being waived by the Hawks less than a full year after his NBA debut.

After his release from the Hawks, Patterson struggled to find a home. He bounced from the Development League to Puerto Rico, Italy and China before he settled in Australia’s National Basketball League.

Since arriving in Australia, Patterson has found his niche for the Brisbane Bullets as the team leader in points, rebounds and steals. He has also piloted the Bullets to a trip to the semifinals of the NBL. Patterson and the Bullets will begin their best-of-three semifinal series versus the Perth Wildcats on Feb. 28.

Avonte Maddox

Like Patterson, former Panther football player Avonte Maddox barely made it to the professional levels, but is now taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to him.

Maddox’s path to the NFL was unclear. A convert from basketball, Maddox began to focus on his football career midway through high school. At Pitt, Maddox was often held back by his 5-foot-9 frame. As a cornerback, he was often matched up on larger wide receivers who would take advantage of the height difference on jump balls.

Maddox eventually overcame his physical shortcomings and achieved third-team All-ACC honors in his senior year on the strength of four sacks, 11 passes defended and two interceptions.

He was drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Their coaching staff, particularly head coach Doug Pederson, immediately recognized that his intangibles would play as big a role in his success as the numbers on the scale.

Maddox’s prime role was in a slot corner for the Eagles in 2018 where he came up with big plays for his defense. In nine starts, he tallied 28 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble as a rookie. After some injuries at the defensive back position gifted him a bit of unexpected playing time, Maddox figures to play an even larger part in Philadelphia’s 2019 defensive scheme.

TJ Zeuch

This weekend, Pitt baseball took the field for the first time this season in Kissimmee, Florida, as part of the Diamond 9 Sunshine State Classic Series. The Panthers are off to a rough start, dropping three of their four contests. After surrendering seven or more runs in all three of those losses, it is clear that Pitt misses the reliable arm of 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher TJ Zeuch, who left Pitt in 2016 after being drafted 21st overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the MLB draft.

Zeuch became the highest draft pick in Panther baseball history after his junior year, when he earned a reputation as a big-game pitcher. Zeuch went 6-1 for the Panthers in 2016 and posted a 3.10 earned run average after missing the first month of the season with a groin injury. Zeuch racked up wins against the eventual Coastal Division champion Miami and ACC champion Clemson. He also turned in strong performances against national powers Florida State and Virginia.

In his first year of professional ball, Zeuch advanced quickly through rookie leagues and Single A, but was sidelined by an undisclosed injury for most of his 2017 season. Zeuch came back strong in 2018 and was promoted to the Double AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats, where he appeared in 21 games and posted a 3.08 ERA, the lowest of his young career.

Zeuch is currently ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the Blue Jays farm system and was poised to make his breakthrough to the major leagues, but a back injury has slowed his progress. He is now expected to spend most of his 2019 spring training rehabbing, then play in the upper levels of Toronto’s minor leagues and await his shot at the majors.

Patterson, Maddox and Zeuch have all experienced their fair share of setbacks in their relatively young professional careers, but all three are still poised to make large leaps into regular professional jobs. Strong beginnings have opened up opportunities for them to capitalize in 2019 and beyond.