WARSAW – Coming from someone who went to Notre Dame and is from a family of NBA players, Luke Zeller related very well with a room full of Christian college ballers.
Speaking of his trials of trying to make a professional basketball career work, to having a successful youth program, and all the pitfalls in between, Zeller engaged a focused audience Tuesday night. Speaking on behalf of the NCCAA at its National Championship banquet ahead of tomorrow’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, Zeller used his wit, relating humor and his trust in his faith to encourage those in attendance at Warsaw Community Church.
Zeller’s legend is well-known in the southern half of Indiana, but the Zeller name is known throughout the country. The oldest of three sons, Luke was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 2005 and hit one of the greatest shots in Indiana high school basketball history, a half-court heave at the buzzer to defeat Plymouth for the state title at Washington that same season. Luke would go on to enjoy a four-year career at Notre Dame and eventually work his way into the NBA.
Brothers Tyler and Cody both were Mr. Basketball’s in Indiana, as well, Tyler going on to play at North Carolina and Cody at Indiana. Tyler was in Indianapolis Tuesday night as the Boston Celtics met the Pacers while Cody is currently a Charlotte Bobcat.
Taking the audience through a reality-based ride of the unglamourous life of trying to make it in pro sports, Zeller broke down just how difficult it is to land a pro gig. He also gave anecdotes of the competition in the classroom, where being a high school valedictorian didn’t always mean things would be easy at the next level. As one story of a Notre Dame professor illustrated, his choice to run a non-profit venture after basketball wasn’t thought of highly at the prestigious institution.
“My professor asked me, why a non-profit? You are at one of the top business schools in the world,” stated Zeller of the interaction, noting his prof was a Fortune 500 business mogul. “I said, ‘I can impact more people.’”
Zeller said he may go back to see his prof one day, maybe when he reaches 5,000 kids to go through his Distinxion basketball camps. Having already catered to 4,200 kids, the camps illustrate life goals and methods to teach more than just the game Zeller has always loved. The camp was founded in 2010 after his professional playing career fizzled out.
One of the nine aspects (termed C.H.A.M.P.I.O.N.S.) being taught through Distinxion is ‘Perseverance’, to which Zeller noted “you play (life) everyday like you are on a non-guaranteed contract.” He detailed how his success at Notre Dame eventually landed him a broken nose and a gig in minor league basketball, trying to find ways to make a $70 check work for him and his wife.
“I told my wife to keep working so I have a sugar mama,” Zeller said. “She was the bread winner. More like, bread crumbs.”
Zeller noted the camps bring him peace in knowing that the faith that helped him through difficult times in his life will help lead others toward a successful path.
“I know the time and effort I can put in to lead someone, that will help them be leaders in their lives,” Zeller said. “Knowing that makes everything I’ve gone through worth it.”