MEN’S BASKETBALL: Zeller dubbed Indiana’s Mr. Basketball
Pat Leonard | Tuesday, April 12, 2005
After averaging a near double-double for the second straight season and hitting a half court buzzer-beater to win the 3A state title, Washington High School senior and Notre Dame recruit Luke Zeller was named the Indianapolis Star 2005 Indiana Mr. Basketball in the newspaper’s Sunday editions.
Zeller received 101 of a possible 247 votes cast by coaches and members of the media. Dominic James of Richmond finished second in the voting with 63 votes, and Josh McRoberts of Carmel was third with 41 votes. Twelve additional high school seniors combined to receive the remaining 42 votes.
Germantown Academy guard Ryan Ayers, recruited to the Irish along with Zeller, was named the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year in late March.
Zeller averaged 19.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game as a senior, solid numbers especially against the double- and triple-team defenses he faced throughout the season. He did not score a point in the McDonald’s All-American game at the Joyce Center March 30, while McRoberts earned the game’s MVP honors with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
But Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said he felt Zeller’s postseason performance is what sealed the coveted award for the All-American recruit.
“I’m happy for Luke,” Brey said. “I think it’s well-deserved with the way he finished his senior year. It’s almost storybook. I was hoping that’s the way they would vote when you win a state championship in the fashion he did.”
Zeller’s fashion was to demand the ball when his team needed him most.With 1.8 seconds remaining in front of 18,345 fans at Canseco Fieldhouse, Zeller asked his coach for the ball during a timeout. Seconds later, he sank the running, half court shot that so many Indiana basketball fans are now familiar with, a moment that would run later in the night as the Top Play on ESPN’s Sportscenter.
Amid the accolades and the praise, however, Zeller – who Brey called a “classy young man” – seemed calm and determined in a phone interview Sunday night.
“I was very pleased and it was great to see the support from all the [voters],” Zeller said. “It really kind of humbled me, and I just basically praise God for everything that’s happened.
“I don’t think it really changes anything. I’ll still go out and play as hard as I can and do everything I can, like I always have.”
Chris Thomas is the only other player in Notre Dame men’s basketball history to receive the award in Indiana.
Brey said having an Indiana Mr. Basketball attend Notre Dame helps his coaching staff’s attempt to recruit more in-state talent. Zeller, however, dispelled the notion he is succeeding Thomas as the Mr. Basketball of the Irish.
“Those are very big shoes to fill, but I think it’s different,” Zeller said.
“I’m going to define myself as a player differently than Chris defined himself. Chris did some amazing things there … If people are lining me up against that, that’s fine, but I’m not gonna line myself up against that.”
“I’m just gonna play my game and do everything I can to help my team win.”
In high school, anyway, Zeller’s everything seems to be enough.
Brey said Sunday that forward Dennis Latimore, who has one year of player eligibility remaining but also has the option of graduating this spring, has not made a final decision to stay with the team or leave.
“We’ll make a final decision on that,” Brey said. “I was away a little bit last week. I’d say we’d know in another two weeks. We’ll make that official. We’ve been discussing both sides of it, but I’d say in two weeks we’ll make a final decision – before school’s out certainly.”
uBrey confirmed he is completely committed as head coach of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program. The coach has repeatedly shaken off rumors that he was interested in filling a vacancy at the University of Virginia.
“I’m busy with Notre Dame business,” he said. “We have our banquet this week, we’re on the road recruiting, we’ll have some kids in visiting. You try to get your returning guys in a routine, and then you gotta work with your seniors as far as getting them situated. My focus has been here.”I think if you ask our players they would agree with that.”