Hoops Runs Through Luke Zeller's Family Tree
Tulsa, Okla. • Oct. 19, 2011
Luke Zeller has lost count of how many family members have basketball coursing through their veins.
His mom, Lori, and dad, Steve, both played basketball. His dad has enough siblings for a full team. Luke’s uncle, Al Eberhard, was a Pistons first-round pick. This week Zeller vies for a family first. Out of countless Zeller hoops enthusiasts, none has ever played overseas for USA Basketball.
Luke went abroad with Athletes in Action and says the chance to return, this time with USA Basketball, the national governing body, ranks as one of the top experiences of his life.
“Being able to play overseas a couple times, you realize the freedom we have in the U.S. and what a privilege it is to live here,” he said. “People want to beat the U.S. To have that target on your back and to be able to bring home a championship is something I definitely want to do.”
Never did his parents pressure Luke to play basketball. He picked the game up in second grade when his dad coached third and fourth grade. Soon, younger brother Tyler challenged him to bedroom battles. "When Mom and Dad move out, it will be interesting to see all the bumps and bruises on the wall. We put a poster over that,” Luke said.
Siblings Tyler and Cody are right behind Luke in hardwood pursuits. After Luke first donned the red, white and blue in 2004 at the USA Basketball Men’s Youth Development Festival,Tyler was selected a member of the 2010 USA Select Team that trained against the USA National Team as it prepared for the FIBA World Championship. Cody is a freshman at Indiana University.
In a town of 12,000 people in the hoops heartland of Indiana, the gym holds more than half the town’s population. Growing up in that environment and reaching a height of 6-11 made basketball an obvious choice for Luke. At age 14, he started his first varsity game. When the buzzer sounded, he had a pair of Division I offers.
“In a small town, you realize you have to work for everything to get to the next level,” Luke said. “You never take any of those opportunities for granted. You’re only as great as the day after your greatest achievement.”
These days he’s not only achieving in his own right but is making it possible for others to do the same.
In 2010, he and his family founded Zeller Sports Academy. Based on character and basketball development, it offered two camps in its debut. Heading into year three, the plan is for 10 camps and a trio of AAU squads.
Luke’s wife, Hope, fits in perfectly with the family game plan. She recently attended Tyler’s Midnight Madness at North Carolina and serves as the cheerleading and marketing chief of the family academy.
Founder and President Luke admires how USA Basketball operates and looks to implement some of its values in his camps.
“Being able to have the unity that they have, representing yourself and your family, is something that we talk about a lot,” he says. “USA Basketball treats everybody like professionals, treats them like men and they respond like men. They have really done a great job representing the country, and it makes me incredibly proud to be here.”
Luke Zeller Bio Notes: Played in 2010-11 with the Bakersfield Jam, saw action in 49 regular season games, averaged 6.9 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 1.3 apg. Drafted by the Iowa Energy as the #11 pick of the second round. Has also played professionally in Lithuania and Japan. Attended Notre Dame University and played four seasons. Concluded career ranked tied for third for games played with 128. Attended Washington High School (Ind.) and finished high school career as Washington's all-time leader in points (1,727), field goals made (637), field goals attempted (1,089), free throws made (418), free throws attempted (578) and tied the mark for games played (94). Also ranked second in school history in rebounds (820). Was named Indiana’s 2005 Mr. Basketball after averaging 19.6 ppg., 8.9 rpg. and 4.0 apg as a senior (2004-05), while leading his team to a 27-2 record and the Indiana Class 3A state championship. Hit the game-winning shot from midcourt as time expired in overtime to lead Washington to the Class 3A state crown. Finished the state championship game with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists (a Class 3A state finals record).