Z's return gives Cavs fans reason for cheer

Z's return gives Cavs fans reason for cheer

Published Jan. 18, 2012 12:35 p.m. ET

CLEVELAND — It may not grab the headlines anywhere else, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas returning to the Cavaliers is a pretty big deal in Cleveland.

That’s because Ilgauskas is right up there with Austin Carr, Brad Daugherty and Mark Price when it comes to being a Cavs legend. On Wednesday, the team gave him another title — that of special assistant to general manager Chris Grant.

And the unassuming 7-foot-3 former center welcomed the hiring as we all expected he would. He did it with grace and gratitude.

“I’m willing to learn, and my work ethic won’t change,” he said.

Good news, considering Ilgauskas did in fact possess a never-surrender approach to the game. How else do you describe a man who was picked up with the No. 20 overall draft pick by the Cavs (1996), suffered through what appeared to be some career-killing foot injuries, then bounced back to play 12 years with the Cavs and 13 overall?

Not only that, but he became the team’s leader in games played, rebounds and blocked shots. Through it all, he played for a team with the NBA’s worst record, two with the best record, visited two All-Star games, and made two trips to the Finals — including last season as a backup with Miami.

“I do have a unique experience as a player,” he said. “I played with good players and bad players, good teams and bad teams. I've seen it all.”

Now, he’ll be scouting college games and evaluating players to help Grant and the Cavs prepare for the June draft.

Some of Ilgauskas’ work will be done from his home in Miami, some will be done on the road, and some may even be done in Europe, as he’ll be scouring the globe for talent.

“I’m open to anything,” Ilgauskas said.

Interestingly, one of the first people Ilgauskas talked with about his new position was ex-Cavs forward and GM Danny Ferry. The two were good friends during their playing days and remain so today.

This despite the fact Ilgauskas broke Ferry’s record for all-time games played with the Cavs, and despite the fact Ferry traded Ilgauskas to Washington (for Antawn Jamison) before re-signing Ilgauskas later that same season.

Ferry is vice president of basketball operations with San Antonio, having made the transition from player to front office-type that Ilgauskas is experiencing. So reaching out to Ferry was only natural for the man simply known as “Big Z” in Cleveland.

And as happy as Ilgauskas is about the move, Grant may be even more pleased.

“Z has always had a great desire to learn and succeed, and he already has a deep understanding and appreciation of the game and the NBA,” Grant said. “We are extremely happy to welcome him back as part of our franchise.”

In Cleveland, you can be sure the fans feel the same.