Chances are if you live in the state of Indiana and are a fan of high school or college hoops, you have heard the name of Washington Senior Cody Zeller. The younger brother of Luke (Mr. Basketball 2005, Notre Dame) and Tyler (Mr. Basketball 2008, North Carolina), a McDonald's All-American, the future of Indiana University basketball, and a near-perfect 20 point, 26 rebound performance in the 2009 Class 3A State championship game in a 65-62 overtime victory over Gary Lew wallace.
Perhaps like his older brothers, there has been no high school basketball player in the state who has been watched as closely as Zeller. But in his sixth season of coaching Washington basketball, Head Coach Gene Miiller realizes that it takes just more then one great basketball player to keep the Hatchets returning to the grand stage.
"Cody I think is the best basketball player in the state of Indiana this year," said Miiller.
"But besides that, it is those other guys that are really important when you want to be successful. I kept on thinking about that on my trip up here. Besides the Zellers, the other really good players that we have had along this run. This year we have Kurtis Anthony, and Robert Pittman, and Dylan Ervin, and we had Seth Coy, Ethan Huntsinger, Sam Gines, and it's all those so-called role players who are extremely important to be succesful. You have to have a team that is going to sacrifice, and do what is the best for the team. It's great to have the great players like the Zellers, but you have to have many other players to get here in the state tournament."
As Norman Dale from "Hoosiers" said, "Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team - no one more important that the other." That very same philosophy will be on hand Saturday night in the Class 3A State Championship game, when the Washington Hatchets (23-4) look for their second consecutive State championship victory (potential seventh overall) against the Culver Academies Eagles (19-6), who will be competing in their first title game. Tip-off for the Class 3A State Championship is at Conseco Fieldhouse at 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, and a live broadcast of the game can be seen on Indiana's 4 WTTV.
Number-one ranked and defending champion Washington enters Saturday as the team most would expect to win, and for good reason. The Hatchets enter the championship on a red-hot sixteen-game winning streak, with a margin of victory at 19 points per game (ppg.). In this past Saturday's Class 3A Semi-State Championship at Seymour High School, Washington rallied from a tied 27-27 half-time score against Batesville (18-7) to win easily 66-48.
Zeller, who has averaged 24.1 ppg. and 13.3 rebounds, finished the game with a modest 23 points and and 18 rebound performance. Perhaps Zeller's biggest play of the game came early in the second quarter, when Zeller grabbed an offensive rebound, dunked it, and sprinted back down on defense to block an in-coming lay-up in one full motion. It seems like no matter how many eyes are on Zeller, the bigger the stage on or off the court, the Hatchets Senior seems to come through unfazed and ready to dominate.
"He just takes everything and just runs with it," said Miiller about his star player in Zeller.
"He's a pretty even-keeled basketball player. You'll see it after the game, before the game, and during the game. He just goes out and plays. He lets his play do the talking for him, and he went through this whole process really well. Even the recruiting, which was was huge. We had a number of people in Washington all the time, and he went through that while just keeping a very even keel. He's gone through it very well."
But putting all your eggs in one basket to stop Zeller can be proven as detrimental to a team's defense. Zeller's teammates in Junior Dylan Ervin (11.7 ppg) and Senior Kurtis Anthony (11.0 ppg) have been used to help spread the floor, and with Sohpomore Cullen Arnold (6.1 ppg, 3.2 rebounds) down low, the Hatchets are an all-around force to be reckoned with.
However it is going to take a top-notch effort from all of those players, including Zeller, to capitalize on what is the final year of the Zeller era.
"We would like to finish it on a high note," said Miiller.
"We know that Culver is a very good basketball team, and we are going to have to play very well. Right now we are focused on them, and maybe after Saturday we can look back and think about the great experiences that we've had over the Zeller era."
The Culver Academies Eagles (19-6) offer something on Saturday that perhaps Washington hasn't seen during the Zeller era: somebody that Cody can look up too, literally. Culver Acadmies Senior Chier Ajou (10.1 ppg and 6.3 rebounds) is a 7'1 center committed to play basketball at the University of New Mexico during the 2012-13 season. Ajou runs the court very well for a guy his size, and could possibly give Zeller problems down low.
"They know each other pretty well," said Culver Acadmies Head Coach Mark Galloway.
"They play AAU-basketball together, and it is going to be a good match-up. But we keep on telling our guys that it's not Cody vs. Chier, it's Culver Academies vs. Washington, and that's the most important thing. "It's a five-on-five game, it's not one-on-one."
The Eagles enter Saturday as the number-eighteenth ranked team in Class 3A for the State of Indiana, but the Eagles have momentum following an eleven-game winning streak. But for the games in the tournament, none of the victories have come easy. From a 55-51 victory over Mishawaka marian, a 66-57 victory over South Bend St. Joseph's, a 61-55 victory over Andrean, a 54-52 victory over Western (a Juwan Brescacin jump shot at the buzzer) and overcame a seven-point deficit to defeat Columbia City 51-49.
"This group has learned to deal with adversity very well over the course of the season," said Galloway to the South Bend Tribune. "When things aren't going well now, they don't panic or get down anymore. They remain focused and stick with the gameplan. I'm just so proud of this group."
Galloway himself is no stranger to overcoming adversity. As the former head coach of the Carmel Greyhounds, Galloway resigned from the program from the incidents revolving around former players and a trip back from Terre Haute.
"Last year was a tough time as a lot of people I think in Indianapolis know," said Galloway.
"I was hurting, I think my family was hurting, and Carmel was hurting.But for me to move on and to be a coach at a great place like Culver, to lead our team here and get back here in Indianapolis to play in the state championship feels really good. It feels for our kids, it feels good for Culver, and it feels good for my family. No regrets being at Carmel after twelve years, and it was a time where you were hurting, it was a tough time."
But on the court the Eagles are a very well-balanced squad that can hurt defenses in many ways. Junior Guard Jermaine Myers (19.8 ppg, 5.3 assists) leads the squad in scoring, while Ajou has fellow teammate in 6'5 Senior Juwan Brescacin (14.5 ppg, 7.7 rebounds), who has scholarship offers to play football at both Northern Illinois and Minnesota.
With these types of players and potential for a first ever IHSAA Basketball State Championship, the Culver Academies campus is excited for what could come Saturday night.
"Our campus is just buzzing right now," said Galloway. "The faculty are excited, the kids are excited, so it's a neat time. It's March madness, so you couldn't ask for a better place to be at then Conseco Fieldhouse."
Tip-off for the Class 3A State Championship between Washington and Culver Academies is at Conseco Fieldhouse at 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, and a live broadcast of the game can be seen on Indiana's 4 WTTV.
Class 3A Preview: Washington looks for second consecutive title against Culver Academies
The Washington Hatchets (23-4) look for their second straight State championship victory while their opponents in the Culver Academies Eagles (19-6) will be competing in their first State championship. Tip-off for the Class 3A State Championship is at Conseco Fieldhouse at 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, and a live broadcast of the game can be seen on Indiana's 4 WTTV.
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.