Luke ZellerThe Zeller Family: A Mark of DistinXion

Later this year, the Zeller family of Washington, Indiana will be in a unique situation. All three of the sons of Steve and Lori Zeller will most likely be playing professional basketball in the NBA.

Luke is the oldest, having played four years at Notre Dame. Since graduating in 2009, he has played for a number of teams both in the United States and overseas. This past year, he spent some time as a member of the Phoenix Suns, and will no doubt be on an NBA roster in the fall. Tyler followed his brother at Washington High School, then went on to have a fine career with the University of North Carolina. This past year, he played his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cody has just finished a two year stint with Indiana University, and is projected to be a high draft choice when the NBA draft is conducted in June.

All three players were voted as Mr. Basketball during their senior years in high school. All three of the boys are nearly 7′ tall with Luke being the shortest at 6′ 11″. And all three not only have outstanding basketball skills, but they have solid spiritual credentials.

I sat with Luke recently in a quiet country gym in the heart of Indiana’s Daviess County. It’s Amish country and the serene setting seemed a far cry from the fast paced life that has become the norm for the Zellers. The gym is a fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Luke. He is the founder and president of an organization called DistinXion, which offers faith based basketball camps for kids of all ages. The title is not a misspelling. The X in the middle represents the Greek symbol for Christ. Luke’s desire from an early age has been to start this camp, and to use it for God’s glory. “When I was fourteen,” he said, “I played in my first high school game for Washington High School in front of 5,000 people. A lot of that wouldn’t have happened without camps, coaches,(and) church camps. I just wanted other people to have the same opportunity I had.”

The eldest Zeller finished his high school career with a flourish. In the 2005 3A state championship game against Plymouth, Luke hit a half court shot at the buzzer, to win the state championship. But throughout his college career, Zeller never forgot his dream. He graduated from the university with a business degree, and has since been focused on making DistinXion a reality. The gym is full scale and is tucked behind a church just east of Washington. A donation made the gym and the land possible, and as I visited with Luke, he mentioned that his dad was in his first day as the director of the organization. Luke says that the title for his dad will be “vice president in charge of character.”

Indeed, character ranks high in the DistinXion camps. Not only are awards given for basketball skills, but “champions points” are given for table manners, firm handshakes, and helping a player up on the court. Luke closes each camp by saying, “We are here because of Jesus Christ. You may not have heard that name, but we hope our actions speak louder than our words.” Campers are encouraged to give their lives to Christ. “Jesus drew a lot of people to himself with his actions,” he says. “Then when he had their attention, he gave them the words. We hope this camp opens a door to their heart.”

It is truly a family function and the Zeller sons are all involved at different levels. Luke notes the differences in their personalities. He calls himself the family entrepreneur, dedicated to seeing the basketball camp project be successful. Tyler is the quietest of the three, functioning with what Luke calls a “laser like” focus on everything he does. Cody is the prankster. Intense on the court, at home he is creative in his humor. Luke tells the story of when mom forgot to log off her Facebook page, and Cody added, “Next year I will have three sons in the NBA all making millions. Can you imagine the Christmas presents they will give me?” Her friends were appalled until she explained that Cody had been up to his old tricks.

Strangely, none of the Zellers, called “The First Family of Indiana basketball” are native Hoosiers. The family came to Washington, because of Perdue, not the University, but the Perdue farms. Originally from Iowa, Steve Zeller worked for a poultry plant, and was moved often by the company. Luke was born in Iowa, Tyler in California, and Cody in Minnesota. But the family now is squarely aligned with Indiana, and with Jesus Christ. A Christian since he was 14, Luke guides the organization with Christian principles. In fact, during camps, the scoreboard reads 13-4, a reference to the guiding verse of the camp, Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.” For a family about to achieve the utmost in basketball, that is truly a mark of DistinXion.

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