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Men’s Basketball: Zeller heads Down Under in search of higher purpose

Fran Tolan | Friday, November 9, 2007

Irish junior forward Luke Zeller traveled to Australia with the Athletes in Action (AIA) team in August to take on several Australian professional teams in an eight-game tour.

The AIA squad was comprised of 10 college players focused on improving their play against top-tier competition.

But for Zeller, the trip was about much more than working on his game or even spending time on the Australian beaches. Zeller said his primary reason for heading Down Under was to grow spiritually.

“The first priority in my life is having God first,” Zeller said. “[I was] being called to something greater, something above just playing for your coach or teammates.”

AIA was founded in 1966 in order to “build on society’s great love of sports and utilize the platform given to the athletes to reach the world for Jesus Christ,” according to its Web site.

It was the second straight summer that Zeller participated in the program. But Zeller said this trip trumped his 2006 journey to Taiwan.

“[Australia] was amazing, the best trip I’ve ever been on,” Zeller said. “Last year I went to Taiwan, and learning Chinese was just a mess.”

While in Australia, Zeller and his teammates visited a juvenile detention center, attended church services regularly and shared stories about the impact of God on their lives. In his diary of the trip, the Indiana native repeatedly thanked his readers for their prayers.

Zeller said the religious aspect of the trip helped him and his teammates form bonds greater than those holding most teammates together.

“To have guys that had the same [spiritual] focus over there was a great environment to be in,” Zeller said. “Playing for the Lord is something that’s a greater purpose than just to play to win.”

But Zeller’s focus on spiritual development certainly did not prevent him from also growing as a basketball player. During the eight-game tour, Zeller averaged 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

“Playing against guys that are better-experienced helped out a lot,” Zeller said. “Playing against guys who have been playing pro ball since they were 18 – and now they’re 35 – was just a great experience.”

In the AIA team’s final contest, a 93-87 loss to the Sydney Kings of Australia’s National Basketball League, Zeller scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Despite his busy basketball and religious schedule, Zeller sometimes managed to be a tourist.

In his diary, Zeller described a day the team spent at “the most beautiful beach” he had ever seen. He also detailed his struggles of learning to use a boomerang and adjusting to Australian vocabulary.

Zeller also said he bought gifts for all the donors that allowed him to participate in the AIA program.

“[The trip] was completely financed by people – friends and family – just people who helped out along the way,” Zeller said.

Zeller said he was grateful for the opportunity to make this trip and said he hopes to embark on more just like it.

“[Serving God] is something I love and it’s what I want to do with my life,” Zeller said. “That’s where my heart’s at.”