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Zeller hoops dynasty fires up hometown

March 19, 2012

Washington Times-Herald
    WASHINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Simply put, Washington, Ind.’s affection for all things Zeller knows no bounds.
    The three Mr. Basketball, McDonald All-American brothers helped deliver four state titles to town  — and people may be even more excited about the Zeller dynasty today than when Luke Zeller’s miracle shot first brought the name to national attention in 2005.
    Now, as both Cody and Tyler Zeller seek a potentially deep NCAA tournament run, Washington will be shifting colors from its traditional black and gold, to hues of Carolina Blue, and Cream and Crimson.
    Fans can be seen all over town in North Carolina gear or in the recent Crimson explosion, much of it stamped with the Nos. 44 or 40.
    The Big Ten’s six-time Freshman of the Week, Cody’s presence at Indiana has affected the entire state.
    Twitter accounts follow his every move on campus, rap videos have been made about him and a regular cottage industry has grown up capitalizing on the success of Indiana’s favorite son with T-shirts and sweat shirts.
    At Carolina, Tyler is known as ‘‘Z,’’ and in Bloomington, Cody has become ‘‘The Big Handsome.’’ In both places, those nicknames are displayed proudly on chests all over ‘‘B-town’’ and ‘‘Chapel Thrill.’’
    However, there seems to be just as great a concentration of IU and Carolina apparel found roaming the hallways of Washington Junior High School and elementary schools.
    ‘‘You see an enormous amount of red here now,’’ said long-time junior high administrator Steve Jones. ‘‘The most I have ever seen. Everyone has their IU stuff back out and it all has to do with Cody.
    ‘‘I went down to our sewing class today and there were North Carolina pillows being made and Indiana pillows being made. Every day, regardless of what class I go into, there  are always kids in class wearing something from IU, Zeller or UNC,’’ added Jones.
    Hibbett Sporting Goods has been ground zero for much of the Zeller merchandise sales.
    ‘‘We can’t keep the Cody Zeller jerseys in stock,’’ said Hibbett assistant manager Brenda Dillon. ‘‘We sell so much Indiana stuff it is unbelievable, and definitely North Carolina stuff is our second best seller.’’
    Coach of both Tyler and Cody, Indiana Hall of Famer Gene Miiller said he is always fielding calls from media wanting to know about the pair.
    ‘‘People are always calling,’’ said Miiller. ‘‘Mostly it’s about what kind of kids they are and my answer is pretty standard, ‘great kids.’ We are now starting to get calls from NBA media with the draft coming up.’’
    Miiller thinks both have handled the pressure and success pretty well.
    ‘‘Tyler is so driven and focused on getter better. He is very serious,’’ said Miiller. ‘‘Cody is a lot more loose and uses a lot of humor.
    ‘‘I think when they come home, Washington people do a pretty good job of letting them hang out with their friends and old teammates. That is important.’’
    At a recent AAU basketball tourney in Washington, Luke Zeller, currently with the Austin Toros of the NBADL, spent a lot of time taking pictures with pint-size ballers.
    ‘‘I was joking with Luke at that tourney,’’ said Jones. ‘‘I said, ‘I didn’t know you were still that famous?’ He laughed and said, ‘They just think I’m Tyler.’’’
    At the center of ‘‘Hurricane Zeller’’ is Lorri Zeller, Washington’s athletic department assistant and the mother who presides over what might well be the nation’s tallest Thanksgiving dinner meal.
    Lorri and father Steve Zeller remain pretty unfazed by their sons’ popularity.
    ‘‘It can get busy. I would say I get calls four or five times a week for interviews,’’ said Lorri.
    ‘‘It can be surreal at some points. However, you also try to enjoy it and soak it all in because it is not going to happen forever.’’

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