By Gregg A. Sims
Washington Times Herald
The number 40 has provided Washington basketball fans with plenty of memories in recent seasons, but after Wednesday, it will simply be a memory for the ages.
Washington High School will retire the number from its boys basketball program between the junior varsity and varsity games as Barr-Reeve and Washington open their boys basketball season Wednesday at the Hatchet House.
The number was worn by all three Zeller brothers, Luke, Tyler and Cody, in their careers that brought four state championships to Washington from 2005 to 2011.
And while Tyler and Cody wore different numbers while it was being used by an older brother, that number must certainly go down in Washington basketball history as the most successful in Hatchet history.
Cody, presently a sophomore at Indiana where the Hoosiers are a consensus No. 1 in the NCAA basketball world, will join parents Steve and Lorri, for the ceremonies where each brother will receive jerseys worn during their time at Washington.
Each jersey will be presented to the Zeller family framed in glass.
A replica jersey will be placed with others from Julie Helm, Steve Bouchie and Craig Neal for permanent display above the Hatchet House floor.
Cody is the only brother available to attend the ceremony, Luke was signed before the start of the National Basketball Association season by Phoenix, and is traveling with the Suns.
Tyler, a first round NBA draft pick last spring , is also playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was injured in a game at Los Angeles against the Clippers and is recovering from those injuries.
“We felt that before Cody gets into the NBA (the youngest Zeller was projected as a potential first round choice himself if he had decided to enter the draft after his freshman season at Indiana), we had better do this because there would probably little chance of getting all three of them here at the same time. That would probably have been impossible for many, many years. We thought this would a good time to do it.”
Luke, the elder of the three, will be remembered for making a last-second shot from beyond halfcourt to hand Washington the first of the four Class 3A championships against Plymouth, 74-72, in overtime in 2005.
Tyler followed, as Washington won in 2005 and 2008. Cody followed in the older brothers’ footsteps with a championship in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
All three were named as Indiana Mr. Basketball, McDonald’s All-Americans and pursued careers in college.
Since Luke first played varsity basketball in the 2001-02 season, the Hatchets compiled a 206-40 record.
The Harmon brothers, Charlie and Bill, won state championships in 1941 and 1942. Those two teams, coached by Marion Crowley, won the 1941 championship against Madison, 39-33, to complete a 27-5 record. The 1942 winners finished the year with a 30-1 mark by defeating Muncie Burris, 24-18.
The DeJernett family was also close.
David was a member of the 1930 team. Brother John played on the 1941 and 1942 team. A third brother, Basil, played on teams from 1934 through 1937.
In all, Washington has seven state titles, with the first coming in 1929-30 against Muncie— a 32-21 win. That team finished with a 31-1 record under the coaching of Burl Friddle.
Luke played at Notre Dame before starting a career that took him overseas, into the NBA Development League and finally the NBA this season with Phoenix.
Tyler took his talents to North Carolina where he was a member of a NCAA championship squad as a freshman.
He was drafted with the 17th pick by the Dallas Mavericks before being traded to Cleveland on draft night.
Cody has helped lead Indiana to a resurgence in a program that has struggled in recent years. The Hoosiers have been ranked as the top team in the nation through the early part of the season, with Zeller appearing on numerous preseason basketball and sport magazine covers.
The three brothers are close enough in age that Washington had a least one Zeller on the floor from the 2002-2005 season through Cody’s final year.
Miiller believes that Washington’s record of in those years has to be one of the highest in Indiana basketball, and certainly a high mark for those times.
“In the years that they were here,” Miiller said, “the school had some of its most successful years in its history. I think it would be hard to deny, with the three boys, that they have been the most successful boys in the sports history of the school. With the numbers of games they won — the four state championships — the seven sectional championships during that time — they have had very successful years here.”
Dave Omer coached Luke for Washington, and was the coach for the first state championship for the brothers in 2005. He said his time with oldest Zeller was rewarding.
“Not only was he (Luke) an outstanding basketball player, he is an outstanding person,” Omer said. “He was very easy to coach, and he enjoyed playing. He’s spent a lot of hours to get to where is. From my perspective, he was one of the finest players that I was around, as a player and a person. It was a pleasure to have him, and made my going out (Omer retired after the 2005 season) a whole lot easier.”
“They (the brothers) have certainly meant a lot to the community with the noteritity they have given,” Miiller said.
“It seems like whenever they have played on television, it is always mentioned that they are from Washington, Indiana. Going to Notre Dame, North Carolina, IU and now into the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns — the other thing is not just with their basketball ability, but the way they have shined with their character. The character of all three young men have been tremendous. I believe that it has been a great beam of light for the city of Washington.”
Miiller said he was not familiar with the brothers or family before coming to Washington, with the possible exception of seeing Luke hit the state finals game-winner.
He chuckled when suggested that if nothing else, it showed the elder big man had shooting range.
“I saw Luke play one game, and that was the state championship when he hit the shot,” Miiller said. “I had no visions, or ides, that we would win three state championships — that’s for sure,” Miller said. “I just wanted to come here and develop a program. As time evolved, you get to see the players and I thought we had a chance to win one. I had never been a part of winning one. As I saw the brothers develop, I thought we might have a chance to win a state championship.”
The ceremony will be a first for both coaches. Neither has been involved with a retirement program in the past as a coach of a player.
“I think it’s quite an honor to have your jersey retired, but for what they have done for the community and school, it is quite deserved.”