Guest speaker Steve Zeller addresses the crowd at Warsaw Community Church during Tuesday night's NCCAA Banquet. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
Guest speaker Steve Zeller addresses the crowd at Warsaw Community Church during Tuesday night's NCCAA Banquet. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
Teams participating in this week’s NCCAA National Championships worked in the community Tuesday and closed the day with a banquet at Warsaw Community Church.
Hosting the eight-team men’s and the eight-team women’s tournaments – which run today though Saturday – Grace College had each team at Tuesday’s banquet. There were a couple awards handed out, and then to guest speaker Steve Zeller, the father of three Indiana Mr. Basketballs and NCAA Division I players, spoke.
Prior to handing the microphone over to Zeller, NCCAA National Chairman Jeff Santarsiero presented Grace College senior Greg Miller the Pete Maravich Award.
Bestowed upon an athlete that exemplifies the right attitude on and off the court, Miller had a humble speech.
“The Lord has blessed me to be able to be a part of Grace basketball the last four years,” the Akron native and all-time leading scorer at North Miami High Schoo said. “I can’t praise Him enough.”
Along with being grateful for being a part of Grace basketball, he also said he is thankful for the coaches he’s had, which have guided him with his spirituality as much as his game.
“They push me in my faith and molded me into the man I am today,” he said.
Knowing his college basketball career will come to a close by the end of this week, Miller is soaking in each moment, which was the theme of Zeller’s speech.
Urging each athlete in attendance to embrace each moment of their lives, including their tournament games this week at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center, Zeller illustrated his point with different episodes in his own life.
The father of 2005 Indiana Mr. Basketball Luke Zeller, as well as the 2008 winner Tyler Zeller and 2011 recipient Cody Zeller, the elder was aware of what brought him to the banquet.
“It’s about the boys,” he said.
Each of the boys are in NBA organizations, as Cody is with the Charlotte Bobcats, Tyler is playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Luke is currently with the San Antonio Spurs’ D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros.
Along with fathering talented basketball players, Zeller also spent 28 years in the meat industry, working for Oscar Meyer, Louis Rich, Simmons Poultry and Perdue Farms, but he’s currently focused on the family’s non-profit organization, DistinXion, which hosts basketball camps while also teaching character.
At the NCCAA banquet, he began things by speaking about having a life-changing experience during his father’s funeral in 1998.
During the emotional event, he remembers looking at his father’s tombstone, which read 1920-1998. Beside that was his still-living mother’s name, with ‘1923 – ’ listed.
His mother, Fern, would pass away in 2000, but at the time, she was still with him and he focused on that dash chiseled on the tombstone.
“That dash is the life,” he said.
During his ‘dash’, Zeller re-hashed moments such as his quiet, hard-working father grabbing his hand while burning Christmas wrapping paper against a dark Iowa night.
“I felt the emotionless, calloused hand of my father and he was grabbing my hand,” he described. “It was a moment I’ll never forget.”
He spoke about taking his current wife, Lorrie, to her junior prom in his Travelall vehicle, and knowing that if she could handle the dust bellowing into his rusted vehicle from the gravel road, that she would be a keeper.
Another moment was Luke hitting a buzzer-beating half-court shot to help Washington defeat Plymouth 74-72 in the 2005 Class 3A state championship game in Indianapolis.
“Lorrie and I were sitting right behind the basket he shot to,” he said. “As soon as he let it go, we knew it was going in. That’s a moment.”
After seeing Luke hit that shot, the Zeller family packed up to get him to the McDonald’s All-American game in South Bend at the University of Notre Dame.
While waiting around in a banquet room, Steve, Cody and Tyler each noticed they were in the same room as Hall of Fame coach John Wooden.
Wooden began to talk to the boys, asking about their ages and where they were from before they parted ways.
Two days later, the trio saw Wooden again, this time signing a lot of autographs in the lobby of the facility.
To their shock, Wooden called a sixth-grade Cody over to him and asked him to stand next to him, between the table he was sitting at and the window behind him.
“He said to Cody, ‘Come over here. I want you to stand right here,’” Zeller said. “About five minutes later, he said, ‘I need you to move over a little.’”
Eventually, it was evident that Cody had become a sun block for Wooden.
“To make a memory for a sixth-grade student like that is something Cody will never forget,” Zeller said.
He also had moments such as Luke praying at his bedside following heart surgery, as well as Tyler thanking his parents for the lessons they taught him during his speech after winning the Academic All-American Award while at the University of North Carolina.
“That moment fits into my dash,” he said.
Finally, he talked about meeting a 26-year-old Indiana University graduate who had been married six months, but was diagnosed with colon cancer a month after his marriage and was given just four months to live.
Having already lived a month after doctors projected him to survive, the young man was  in his hospital bed meeting with Steve, as well as Kent Benson, a member of the Hoosiers’ 1976 national championship team.
During that meeting, he talked to the two about how Cody and the Indiana men’s basketball team had helped him through some tough times in the previous months.
Hoping to lift his spirits, Steve sent a quick text to Cody, hoping to get a response from his son, who was in Portland preparing to work out with the Trail Blazers in preparation for the 2013 NBA Draft.
After hearing back from Cody, he let the patient speak with him and after some small talk, the young man gave Cody a message.
“I just want to tell you to live every day to the fullest, because you never know when our Father will call us home,” the man said to Cody.
Wanting to find out what the whole conversation had been, Steve received a humbled response from his youngest son, who would go on to be the fourth overall pick in the draft to the Bobcats.
“He told me exactly what I needed to hear,” Zeller recalled.
Dreading his obligation to work out for seven more teams, the man lying in the hospital put it all in perspective.
“I’m complaining about going for team workouts and he’s dying of cancer,” Steve said about Cody’s response. “That’s a God moment. God uses us in so many different ways.”
With his last story summing up the function of DistinXion, he finished his speech with a simple statement.
“Enjoy the moment,” he said.