WASHINGTON — Some came great distances; they came by foot and by car and even by motorcycle. They were young and old and somewhere in between; couples with babies; men with Indiana High School All-Star programs, women with cameras and everyone, it seemed, with smartphones. They came to honor and cheer, but mostly, they came to watch.
They gathered at the Hatchet House, one of the old shrines of Indiana high school basketball, to see a favored son — tall in stature, thin of frame, rich in talent — dominate one last time while state championship banners hung above the basketball court.
And it came to pass that Cody Zeller delivered yet again, and if it wasn't the winning baskets, if it was just an exhibition instead of a meaningful game, if the opponent had come together only once to practice, just hours before, well, nobody cared.
This was about seeing the future of Indiana University basketball and, in smaller doses, that of schools such as Purdue, Butler, Michigan State, Kentucky and more.
The 6-11 Zeller is signed with IU. He will lead the Indiana All-Stars against their Kentucky counterparts this weekend, take a couple days off and head to Bloomington to start summer school and a whole new college world.
For the record, Zeller had 26 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks in Monday's 117-113 victory over the Junior All-Stars. That continued the double-double pace he set in high school while leading Washington to three state championships.
As Indiana's Mr. Basketball, Zeller gets to wear No. 1 as his older brothers Luke and Tyler did. During a pregame ceremony he signed a basketball covered with signatures from previous Mr. Basketballs that will be displayed at the Indiana Hall of Fame in New Castle.
“Wearing No. 1 is a great honor,” Zeller says. “To be Mr. Basketball anywhere is special, let alone in Indiana where basketball is so prestigious.”
The Zeller legacy is strong in Washington and stretches back a decade. The fact that the run is over, that Steve and Lori Zeller's family has outgrown high school left some with a sense of nostalgia.
“A lot of Hatchet fans came up to me and said they'd miss having a Zeller on the court,” Zeller says. “A lot of them will follow me to IU. I think they'll be all right without us.”
For now the focus is continuing Indiana's domination of its Kentucky rivals. Indiana has an 81-42 edge in the series. It has won five straight and 11 of the last 12 meetings. It has swept both games nine times in the last 12 years.
“It's been our game the last few years,” Zeller says. “Hopefully we can continue that tradition. Playing a good team like (the Indiana Junior All-Stars) will help us.”
IU fans have longer-term hopes. So they will likely come to tonight's final exhibition in Kokomo, come to All-Star games in Louisville and Indianapolis, and then focus on what they believe will be a return-to-glory Hoosier season.
Some will come great distances ...