Issuu on Google+


LIKE FAITH AND SPORTS?

SUBSCRIBE HERE FOR $27.52 (4 print, 8 digital) or pay $1.99 A MONTH TO ACCESS 12 DIGITAL ISSUES A YEAR


CONTENTS FEATURES

CLOSEUP:

NCAA Closeup: Jeff Withey (p4); NCAA Closeup: Bryce Drew (p6); Seth Curry (p8); NCAA Closeup: Steve Alford (p10); NCAA Closeup: Ryan Kelly (p12); Photo provided by: Duke University Athletics

OPINION

2

UNPACKIN’ IT: BRYCE DREW

ONE YEAR GONE

18

CRASHING THE PARTY

22

FROM HARDWOOD TO HARDBACK

26

THE (BUTLER) WAY

30

I.A.J.

34

CRAFTSMAN OF SORTS

38

ZEALOUS FAITH

The best 3-point shooter in the nation, Rotnei Clarke, took a leap of faith by transferring to Butler University for his senior season, but his year off challenged him in ways he never imagined BY STEPHEN COPELAND

Liberty’s unwavering faith helped the Flames overcome remarkable odds to advance to the NCAA Tournament BY ERIC BROWN Former college and WNBA star Charlotte Smith has used life’s challenges for inspiration to help others BY BRETT HONEYCUTT

Butler University head coach Brad Stevens and his wife, Tracy, rely on faith in a whirlwind of back-to-back national championships. Could another be coming? BY STEPHEN COPELAND

From the streets of Seattle, to the courts of Louisville, Cardinal point guard Peyton Siva has a slogan all who believe can apply BY KEN SNYDER

Ohio State guard Aaron Craft excels on the floor, in the classroom and in his mission BY AARON MAY

Photo provided by: Valparaiso University Athletics

Photo provided by: Ohio State University Athletics

Faith and sports podcast host Bryce Johnson interviews Valparaiso head coach Bryce Drew, who just led the Crusaders to the NCAA tournament and famously hit “The Shot” in the 1998 NCAA tournament BY BRYCE JOHNSON

14

42

ANOTHER ANGLE: Cody Zeller, man of mischief

Who is Cody Zeller? What’s behind the even-keeled Indiana University sophomore who acts the same whether he’s the victim of a bad call or catalyst behind a highlight jam? The answer is simple: a mischievous grin BY STEPHEN COPELAND

Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller has always followed in his brothers’ footsteps, but now he’s writing his own story by helping resurrect Hoosier basketball BY STEPHEN COPELAND

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

1


OPINION w w w. u n p a c k i n i t . c o m | F o l l o w @ b r y c e r a d i o

Every week Bryce Johnson is joined on Sports Spectrum’s official podcast, Unpackin’ It, by inspiring guests to discuss sports, faith and life. Listen to the full audio of all his interviews on unpackinit.com. Below are some highlights from Bryce’s interview with Valparaiso head coach Bryce Drew and was the key player during 13-seeded Valparaiso’s surprise run to the sweet 16 in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. He famously hit “The Shot” to defeat Ole Miss.

BRYCE JOHNSON: I know you always get asked about “The Shot”, but I’m curious, does it come up with the young guys you are recruiting? BRYCE DREW: You know, sometimes the parents remember or sometimes the parent may say something to the player, but to be honest, a lot of these kids now are so young they really don’t piece it together. Usually they get on campus and someone will say something about it and they might go YouTube it and be like, “Oh, man,” and really have no idea until after they’re already at school. So, it’s not something that I go out and I sell in recruiting. I’m all about the player now and want them to be successful and not really looking back into the past. BRYCE JOHNSON: When did you know you wanted to coach? BRYCE DREW: It was probably about my third year in the NBA. I was playing with the Chicago Bulls and I got injured that year and missed quite a few games and just sitting there a lot. I really enjoyed the x’s and o’s and the game preparation and I enjoyed playing, but then started to also think if I’m going to coach, what would I do here or what can I pick up to help me when/if I do start coaching. BRYCE JOHNSON: What is the relationship like with your dad when it comes to you now being the coach for the same school that he was the coach for? Does he give you advice? BRYCE DREW: A lot of the values and the sustenance of our program and it’s the foundation that he’s laid within the program and also within me, and so we do a lot of things similar. He gave me some of the best advice when I took over. He said just be yourself, react how you would react, say what you would normally say and just be yourself out there. That’s been the greatest advice, I just try to be myself. Just like I am in practice I try to be in the games. BRYCE JOHNSON: What has your faith journey been like? BRYCE DREW: I’m very blessed. I grew up in 2

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

a Christian family, going to church. We did go to a lot of different churches growing up, and I would say in high school, when I was in 10th grade, is when I really gave my life to Christ. (I realized) that just because my parents are going to church doesn’t mean I have to, but I want to go because I wanna serve Christ and worship Him, and so when I was in high school was when it became my faith. Like anything in life it’s a journey, and there’s ups and downs and struggles, and the one thing that’s always remained true is God and His love and His grace for us. For me, I’m very blessed to have the family that I’ve had and also very blessed to be at a school, a private school that allows us to pray with the team and open up the Bible and talk about it, so it’s something that we definitely take advantage of and expose our players to. BRYCE JOHNSON: What is the response like from players and what are other ways you’ve been able to lead with your faith? BRYCE DREW: We’ve got a great group of guys. Seven of our 13 players have a cumulative 3.0 or better GPA after the first semester. They’re very, very bright kids. We have an older team with six seniors. I’m very blessed, we have a great staff with other believers on it. We’ll do like a chapel before every game and we’ll do different stories from the Bible and tie it into the game and tie it into life sometimes, and it’s great to get some of the feedback from the players. I don’t know if all of our players will accept Christ or have, but our job…we do want to lay a foundation and expose them to Jesus, and hopefully, if they haven’t accepted him, hopefully at some point in their life, they will recall these situations or what we’ve taught them and then give their life or pursue Christ then. So, we definitely have it there; we pray before every practice and we like to expose our players to Christ. BRYCE JOHNSON: Finally, I have to ask you about your relationship with your brother, Scott, who is the head coach of Baylor. I want to know what you thought of the Harbaugh brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl and do you think you would ever want to coach against Scott in a big game? BRYCE DREW: It was kind of neat to see two

brothers, and I can definitely feel for them because my brother and I have talked about it before, and we do not want to play each other. It’s just too hard. We’re very close, and it’s so competitive at the Division 1 level and so cut-throat, and to be in that situation, I don’t think we would want to be there. Maybe the only way would be the National Championship game, but even then family reunions are tough after that, after one brother loses. So it’s definitely a tough thing. Photo provided by: Valparaiso University Athletics

I’m convinced... • Duke, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio State will make the Final Four. • Duke will win the National Championship. • I’m convinced the first Thursday of the tournament is my favorite because of all the anticipation and excitement for the start of the big dance. • My favorite play in tournament history is the Christian Laettner shot at the foul line that helped Duke beat Kentucky. • The upset teams to pick this year are Valpo, Davidson, Ole Miss, and Iowa State. • It’s not okay that Kentucky won the national championship last year and then lost in the first round of the NIT this year. They are too strong of a program to allow that big of a drop off. • College basketball is obviously better when there are more seniors playing. • The teams I can’t trust in the tournament anymore are Kansas, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma.


NOW $12

jerseyeffect.org “It’s about recognizing the potential harm a jersey can cause—the self-centeredness, greed, immaturity, larger-than-life mentality, and obsession with this world—but also the potential power one’s jersey has for the good of society and, most importantly, the good of Christ’s Kingdom.” - Hunter Smith, author, musician, and former NFL punter

Available now in the Sports Spectrum store


Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Jeff Withey (@JeffWithey) - Kansas center

“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.(Proverbs 18:12)- God is good yesterday, today, and tomorrow!!” February 6

“So many things to be thankful for! But most of all I’m thankful for Jesus dying on the cross for ALL our sin. #godisgood” November 22

“Good win.. Be patient with us, we have a young team. Rock chalk! Give all the glory to GOD!” November 9

“Forgive! no one is perfect. Luke 6:28 --> bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” November 8


NCAA BASKETBALL CLOSEUP

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

5


Bryce Drew

- Valparaiso University head coach “Like anything in life it’s a journey, and there’s ups and downs and struggles and the one thing that’s always remained true is God and His love and His grace for us. For me, I’m very blessed to have the family that I’ve had and also very blessed to be at a school, a private school that allows us to pray with the team and open up the Bible and talk about it, so it’s something that we definitely take advantage of and expose our players to.” For more in-depth faith and sports radio interviews, listen to Bryce Johnson’s radio show at www.unpackinit.com.

Jess D. Garrabant / Getty Images

10

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012


All photos provided by: Valparaiso University Athletics


Seth Curry - Duke University guard

“Jesus Christ is definitely No. 1 in my life. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. He’s done a lot for all of us by dying in the cross. You just try to go out there and no matter what you do in life, just do it to the best of your ability and just try to know you’re blessed.” Click here to watch Seth Curry’s interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.

All photos provided by: Duke University Athletics

18


Jennifer Pottheiser / Getty Images

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013 SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

9 15


16 10

S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ D I G I M A G 2 0 1 32


Steve Alford - New Mexico head coach

“I’m a Christian first, I’m a a family guy second, coaching, as much as I like coaching, as much as I like basketball, it’s still third, fourth, fifth down the line. My children see me being coach enough, I have to make sure they see me being dad. It’s my responsibility as a father that I instill those values in my children.” Click here to watch Seth Curry’s interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. All photos provided by: University of New Mexico Athletics

CLICK HERE

to read a cover story on Steve Alford, back when SS was called ‘Second Look’ and Alford led Indiana to an NCAA title SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

11


All photos provided by: Duke University Athletics

Ryan Kelly (@RyanKelly34) - Duke University forward

“Want to thank everyone for their prayers and support! God has a plan! “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”Philippians 4:13” January 10

Merry CHRISTmas! December 25

“A simple grateful thought turned heavenwards is the most perfect prayer. - Doris Lessing” October 15 28

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

Ian MacNicol / Getty Images

Courtesy: Butler University


S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ D I G I M A G 2 0 1 32 SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012 Rocky Widner / Getty Images

19 13 29


CLICK HERE TO WATCH SPORTS SPECTRUM’S INTERVIEW WITH ROTNEI CLARKE Photo provided by: Butler University Athletics

20 14

S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ D I G I M A G 2 0 1 32 Rocky Widner / Getty Images


ONE YEAR GONE T

THE BEST 3-POINT SHOOTER IN THE NATION, ROTNEI CLARKE, TOOK A LEAP OF FAITH BY TRANSFERRING TO BUTLER UNIVERSITY FOR HIS SENIOR SEASON, BUT HIS YEAR OFF CHALLENGED HIM IN WAYS HE NEVER IMAGINED

BY STEPHEN COPELAND

here’s a stairwell that leads to a lonely apartment on Hinesley Avenue, down the street from Hinkle Fieldhouse. Rotnei Clarke, one of the nation’s top college basketball players, used to crawl up the stairs to the second floor, casts on his feet, questions on his mind, doubts flying like arrows over the walls of his soul. The sort of interesting thing about stairs is that they always lead somewhere, whether up or down. Trials are like stairs. You can either get better or worse. Your spirits can either go up or down. And the choice is usually up to you. Last year, Rotnei Clarke had a choice, a choice he was reminded of every time he crawled up and down the stairs to his off-campus apartment, unable to put pressure on his ankles. He wondered if he did the right thing, if leaving his family in Oklahoma was crazy, if leaving the University of Arkansas after three years of hardwood stardom was foolish, if turning down a storied homecoming and senior season at Oklahoma for tiny Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., was downright insane. Clarke, a celebrity at the University of Arkansas, may have never felt more invisible than climbing the steps to his apartment where he lived alone, at a new school, in a new state, with his very identity, basketball, at stake. Rotnei Clarke had a choice. He could become a better man, or he could let this destroy him. He could go up. Or he could go down. Courtesy: Butler University

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

21


SO LONG, ARKANSAS

Rotnei Clarke’s journey to Butler University is about as unimaginable as the Bulldogs’ back-to-back Final Four appearances. No one goes to school expecting to transfer, and Clarke was no exception. You expect to be there for four years, at least—maybe more if you live in a fraternity and have rich parents. Clarke played at the University of Arkansas for three years. That’s right, three years. When you transfer with only a year remaining, people look at you like you’re building an ark, like you’re crazy. No one wanted Clarke to leave. Arkansas actually wouldn’t even grant his initial request to be released, which is almost unheard of. But when you talk to Clarke— a polite, clean-cut country boy who has mastered the art of the faux hawk and is obsessed with Christian rap—you can kind of understand why, why they’d want to keep him, cage him, control him. He’s not easy to replace. At the University of Arkansas, Clarke was treated like a god. The six-foot sharp shooter could play basketball. His sophomore season, ESPN’s Andy Katz named him the best shooter in the country. The first game of his junior season, Clarke scored 51 points (school record) and nailed 13 3-pointers (SEC record) against Alcorn State. Short. White. Shooter from a small town. In a way, he was very Hoosier. Also, on a Razorback team with many off-the-court issues, Clarke talked the talk, wore “Jesus” on his sleeve, and was the face of the program. He was a constant glimmer of hope for nettled Razorback fans wounded by negative press. He was a role model, a light in the darkness. Character. Commitment. Selflessness. In a way, he was very Butler. Transferring from Arkansas would mean sitting out a season to follow NCAA rules, which made his decision to depart even more desperate. But he needed out. His coach, John Pelphrey, was fired after finishing 18-13 in the 2010-11 season, and the year before, five of Clarke’s teammates were suspended at the start of the season for various disciplinary issues, one of which were rape allegations involving three players at a party, causing them to only dress nine players which included an Arkansas golfer and former football player. “I just knew I was supposed to get out of there,” Clarke says. “I especially knew it when Coach Pelphrey got fired. I just didn’t feel comfortable with it at all. But it was hard because I dedicated so much to that program.” With the best shooter in the nation back on the market, some interesting storylines began to develop, and Clarke’s final year of eligibility was shaping up to make a nice homecoming to the University of Oklahoma, the state where he led Verdigris High School to its first Class 3A state championship and became the state’s leading point scorer with 3,758 career points (33.2 points per game). But Oklahoma was dealing with its own allegations, and Sooner or later, Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs entered the picture. “It was the last place I thought I would be, honestly,” Clarke

24 22 16

S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ D I G I M A G 2 0 1 32

says, his Oklahoma accent prevalent, something that has to make mid-west Butler girls blush and crumble. “In my high school process of recruiting, I was patient that if people wanted me enough, they’d keep on going after me. It was the same thing with Butler. I didn’t really have to make a decision. I just knew it was right.” And thus began the most trying year of Clarke’s career.

REMOVED

The transition wasn’t difficult because Butler is nine and a half hours from home, or because it has harsh, gray winters that force you to see the world in all of its cruelty, or because it has basketball facilities as old as Betty White. It was difficult because of what unraveled, difficult because life is only a moment away from spiraling out of control. Not because of Butler. Clarke went to Butler because it felt right. At Arkansas, where coaches were getting fired and teammates faced felonies, Butler filled a void. Stevens and the Bulldogs did things the right way—the Butler Way—and it resulted in two back-to-back national championship appearances. Clarke fit the prototype. He was very Butler. He knew the transition would have its challenges. He was leaving family, friends and an institution that treated him like Justin Bieber. The toughest part was not being able to travel with the team, his friends, because he had to sit out a year. On those lonely, winter nights, he would escape to a dimly lit Hinkle Fieldhouse, shoot hundreds of 3-pointers, and imagine his comeback. He was sitting out a year, but he still had basketball. He still had Hinkle. That’s when it was taken away. For three years at Arkansas, Clarke says he would go into the training room every day and complain about his ankles. They caused pain every game, and he was losing his flexibility. They took x-rays. They took MRIs. Nothing. When he arrived at Butler, he says the trainer took one look at it and, from experience, knew exactly what it was: a bone going across both of his ankles, something he had been born with. It required minor surgery but four months of recovery. Clarke, who had never even sat out two weeks of basketball, saw the sport stripped from his life for the first time. Not only was he sitting out a season, but he could also no longer practice. The worst, perhaps, was that he could no longer distract himself while his team was on the road. His late-night shooting sessions at Hinkle were over. Instead, he was wheeling around campus and climbing stairs. Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

BELIEVABILITY

The sort of interesting thing about stairs is that they always lead somewhere, whether up or down. To many, Clarke had every reason to be upset, every reason to

Stu Forster / Getty Images


let his hope fail, every reason to doubt his Christian faith and the belief that God is in control of his life. He left his family, his friends, and a school that loved him. He took a risk because he believed God wanted him to. He took a risk for one season of eligibility because he believed God wanted him to. And yet this is what he received, the possibility that his basketball career was already over and he may never be the same basketball player again. “There was a time I definitely doubted God,” Clarke says candidly. “I left my family. I left my friends. I left diehard fans who just wanted to see me succeed. What I left was a comfort zone—I dove out of my comfort zone—but I see how much it has changed me as a person.” There were nights that Clarke admittedly laid in his bed and cried. His mother visited him one weekend and started bawling when she left. “She hated seeing me like that,” Clarke says. “It was the ultimate low for me.” Risks can be maddening because they don’t necessarily grant you anything. Job faced trial after trial, loss after loss. Peter followed Jesus and was crucified upside down. Paul followed Jesus and got rocks hurled at him. With each step comes the challenge of crawling up another one. It’s called “life.” “That’s a mistake a lot of us make,” Clarke says. “It’s easy to praise God because I’ve had a great day or a great practice or a great game. It’s easy to praise him in success, but when you are really going through a struggle or something really tough in your life, I feel like I blame God. But this made me realized that if basketball is taken away from me, I know I still have my relationship with Him. I can still find Him. I can still seek Him. He’s going to be there for me no matter what—when basketball isn’t.” Trials, perhaps, challenge the very consistency of our souls. And if there’s a word that describes Clarke, it’s that: consistent. Back in high school, Clarke remembers reading his Bible on the way to the state tournament, like he usually did. “Come here,” a teammate said. Clarke went and sat by him. “I want to read with you,” his teammate continued. Situations like that weren’t unusual throughout high school. People noticed the way Clarke lived. He wasn’t a Bible thumper. He just lived out what he believed. And people—like his teammates—acknowledged, even admired, his consistency. Like the time Clarke was sitting in his high school computer class, thinking about ways he could impact lives, and decided to write a letter—letters that were placed in every visiting team’s locker room at a tournament Verdigris was hosting. The letter explained what Jesus meant to him, sited Bible verses, and had “Rotnei Clarke” at the top. Everyone knew who Rotnei Clarke was. He was one of the best players in the state. “Hey,” an opposing player said to Clarke in the middle of a game. “Thanks. I really appreciated you putting that in the locker room.” Or the time Verdigris, a public high school, won its first ever state title Clarke’s senior year, and Clarke led prayer in front of a 14,000-person crowd as every player and coach knelt at center court. Clarke had a consistent zeal about his faith that made what he believed, well, believable. His teammate asked to read with him. The opposing player thanked him in the middle of a game. The whole staff looked to him to pray. Nothing changed when Clarke went off to college. “I remember people saying, ‘He may be a nice kid and do the right things now, but when he gets to college, he’s gonna be crazy.’ I would just laugh at that,” Clarke says. Clarke spoke in the Fayetteville area numerous times about

his faith and would even drive 2-3 hours sometimes to speak at churches and basketball events. “I enjoy sharing my story,” he says. He does. Clarke talks about Jesus more freely than he talks about his accolades. He is more concerned with souls than self. It’s kind of weird, really. At a young age, he just got it. While his teammates at Verdigris were kings of the halls, he was typing up a letter in his computer class. When teammates were partying at Arkansas, he was driving three hours to a speaking engagement to talk about some dude he’s obsessed with named Jesus. And that’s what makes his phase of life at Butler University so interesting. Basketball—the very core of his being, his identity, something he had always had—was stripped, challenging the consistency of his soul. Challenging the strength of his identity.

STAIRS AND SPRINGTIME

There are few things more beautiful than Butler in the spring. Everything is better. The sun that beams through Hinkle’s trademark windows is a warmer sun. The white buildings around campus emerge like a painting when not disguised by snow. The campus comes alive again. It’s reborn. It’s a refreshing reminder that, even after a bitter winter, life is still good. Seasons, after all, are only phases of weather, with positives about each one. Last spring, Clarke was wheeling around campus when another student in a wheelchair came up to him. He could tell she had been bound to the wheelchair her entire life. She looked at him, smiling. “Wanna race?” she laughed. He laughed, too. Then he thought about how beautiful life was. She was in a wheelchair, and she didn’t feel sorry for herself. She could smile. Why couldn’t he? “It says in the Bible that if you diligently seek Him, you will be rewarded,” Clarke says. “And it was hard at first with basketball being taken away from me because I was in so much doubt. (I’d wonder,) ‘Did I make the right decision? Is all this supposed to be happening?’ But it really put things into perspective on how important life is and just enjoying what is given to you.” Life is difficult, but Clarke allowed his mind to climb upward, not downward. He got better. Not bitter. And now, the 63rd best player in the country, according to CBS Sports, is back, feeling better than he’s ever felt. “I was joking with my dad the other day,” Clarke says, “and we were talking about how I’m just going to be bouncing off the walls when I finally get out there and play a game again.” Clarke tries not to change with the wind, with the seasons. A follower of God who only follows sometimes, or when he or she feels like it, really isn’t a follower at all. Those people are just fickle participants. Clarke has a consistency about him that makes what he believes believable. “I was able to find my identity,” Clarke says, “and I knew that if I didn’t have basketball I was going to be okay because I would still have my relationship with Christ.” One year gone, and he is better for it. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.

SPORTS Photo provided by: Butler University Athletics


Photo provided by: Liberty Athletics

188

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013


CRASHING THE PARTY LIBERTY’S UNWAVERING FAITH HELPED THE FLAMES OVERCOME REMARKABLE ODDS TO ADVANCE TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT BY ERIC BROWN Starting a season-opening 0-8 stretch in the face, the Liberty men’s basketball team entered into a realm unknown by any other Flames squad in the program’s 40-year existence. Marred by injuries and defections, the players who remained could have easily called it quits. However, a veteran coach with unshakeable faith reminded his players that though their heads hung low, they still had a chance to wear championship hats. The vignettes in this story feature numerous stories surrounding the 2013 Liberty Flames squad as the team stepped onto one of college basketball’s biggest stages—the NCAA Tournament.

Davon Marshall

When Davon Marshall arrived at Liberty in the offseason, he thought he was going to be the Flames’ go-to shooting guard. However, not long before the 2012-13 season started, he learned he’d be the team’s floor general, carrying the mantle left after the graduation of Liberty’s all-time assist leader and four-year starter, Jesse Sanders. Of course, Marshall wasn’t completely out of his element. He knew he could draw on the experience from his days playing backup point guard at Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y. Nonetheless, the idea of being the team’s primary ball handler involved an adjustment period. Following Liberty’s 68-59 loss to Georgetown, Liberty coach Dale Layer made it clear to Marshall he possessed the coaching staff’s trust and support to run the Flames’ point. In the final seconds of Liberty’s game against Georgia State, a buzzer-beating three-pointer sealed an 0-8 start for Liberty, a dark, unprecedented time in the program’s 40-year history. After the game, Layer patted his point guard on the back and assured him things would get better. In hindsight, those words now ring true. Nicknamed the Niagara Falls Ghost by teammates, Marshall’s performances were seen and heard throughout the 2013 Big South Championship. Averaging 18.0 points per game in the four-game span, the junior went 20-of-33 (.606) from the field, 17-of-24 (.708) from three-point land and 15-of-16 (.938) at the foul line to earn tournament MVP honors. SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012

25


When the scholarship offers did not come rolling in upon graduating high school, Marshall elected to go to junior college. Two and a half years later, the “Grand Marshall” laced up his dancing shoes on a grand stage.

Casey Roberts

People often place student-athletes into two categories— scholarship players and walk-ons. While Casey Roberts falls into the latter, his play on the court does not. How many walk-ons do you know who have posted double-digit scoring figures inside the Verizon Center against Georgetown? Roberts’ 13-point performance against the Hoyas earlier in the season did not go unnoticed by his teammates and coaches. From Day One when Roberts chose to walk on at Liberty over other offers he received, Layer and his assistants knew they had more than the average non-scholarship player. “There were definitely other schools that were very appealing and it would have been better financially,” Roberts reflected. “But I just really felt the call from God to come here. Up until this point it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Andrew Smith

Before the start of the season, Layer and his coaching staff mulled over the idea of redshirting Andrew Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward with incredible athletic ability. However, when it was made clear that Antwan Burruswould not return to the Flames’ lineup this season, Smith was forced to grow up quickly. While he may not have filled the stat sheet for the Flames during the regular season, the Floridian forward gave the team a shot of adrenaline with his big blocks and authoritative alleyoops. Just before postseason play began, Smith’s work ethic allowed him to crack the starting lineup, holding onto the nod throughout the Flames’ impressive run in the Big South Championship.

Tomasz Gielo

Heading into this season, Liberty’s 6-9 Polish forward Tomasz Gielo was regarded by the Flames’ coaching staff as one of the team’s most improved players. However, days before the season began, Gielo, a sophomore, sustained an injury, forcing him out of the first six games of Liberty’s 0-8 stretch. Upon returning to the floor, Gielo was an instant contributor, working his way into the starting lineup in his second game back. During the Big South Tournament, Gielo turned thing up a notch, scoring 14 points while hitting 3-of-4 three-pointers

26 20

S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ D I G I M A G 2 0 1 32

in the first round matchup against tournament host Coastal Carolina. In the quarterfinals, Gielo’s layup with less than two minutes left gave the Flames a six-point lead in the last 1 minute, 51 seconds, allowing Liberty to ultimately escape with the 61-60 victory against the Panthers.

Joel Vander Pol

Much like Gielo, center Joel Vander Pol was unable to take the court at the start of the season because of an injury. The redshirt junior underwent two lower back surgeries during the offseason, missing the first nine games of the year, including the 0-8 stretch. When Vander Pol made his season debut against Howard, it took just 14 seconds for the Fort Myers, Florida, native to record a blocked shot. From that moment on, Vander Pol has not looked back, playing a key role off the bench whenever called upon. The 6-10 center’s 11 points and seven rebounds in Liberty’s 65-62 semifinal victory against Gardner-Webb served as a welcomed surprise. Vander Pol’s impact helped the Flames reach the finals for the first time in nine years before bringing home the program’s third Big South Championship and NCAA Tournament bid. “I’d say this team is a family now,” Vander Pol said during the semifinals postgame press conference. “We’ve bonded the entire week. It’s been exhausting at times, but the character on this team has been revealed. Guys have stepped up, but it’s really turned into a family. Everyone is completely dialed in and sold out and that’s what we need this time of year.”

Tavares Speaks

Undoubtedly one of Liberty’s most consistent players, Tavares Speaks began his collegiate career at Cape Fear Community College under the tutelage of head coach and former Liberty captain Ryan Mantlo. During his days at Liberty, Mantlo was a captain of the Flames’ 2004 Big South Championship team and starter for No. 16 seed Liberty in its second NCAA Tournament appearance against No. 1 seed St. Joseph’s (March 18, 2004). Nine years later, Speaks is following in the footsteps of his mentor in his senior year, becoming a member of the third team in program history to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. “It means a lot,” Speaks said in the midst of Liberty’s Big


All photos provided by: Liberty Athletics

South Championship run. “We worked hard every day and never gave up. A lot of teams would have packed it up and went home. Coming into the conference tournament, we just knew we were supposed to be here.”

Antwan Burrus

Although he will not set foot on the court this season, Antwan Burrus has been the Flames’ humble cheerleader. Poised to leave his mark in the Liberty record books, Burrus entered this season as the Flames’ go-to guy inside the paint. People familiar with the program felt the senior would undoubtedly save his best year for last and his 15 first-half points in Liberty’s bluewhite scrimmage provided a strong indication. However, in the second half of the scrimmage Burrus did not see much action and it soon became apparent the forward could miss more than a few games. It was later revealed that Burrus suffered from a stress reaction in his left foot, an injury the coaching staff remained hopeful about. While at one point it was believed the Winterville, N.C., native would eventually return, the decision was made in late December to don a medical redshirt, instead. Last season, Burrus was able to give the Flames a jolt of energy when he hit a 30-foot buzzer beater that was featured at No. 2 on ESPN Sports Center’s Top 10 Plays. This year, that same energy was felt in the locker room, the team bus, on the sidelines and everywhere else Burrus went with Flames. When watching the Flames burst onto the court after claiming the Big South title, Burrus’ elation as he ran alongside the rest of his teammates was indescribable. Despite not being able to share the court with the rest of the team until next season, No. 24 will continue to provide Liberty with a competitive influence that cannot be scouted.

J.R. Coronado

Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, an area known as a baseball hotbed, JR Coronado had aspirations of being in the big leagues. However, injuries to his right shoulder altered those plans, turning a right handed pitcher into a two-handed rebounder. “I was really good, actually, and I thought my future was baseball,” Coronado recalled when asked about his high school baseball career. “We had a lot of scouts come to our school. I had to get surgery on my shoulder and after I came back and did rehab, I just wasn’t the same.” With his chances at continuing to play on the diamond wan-

ing, Coronado began embracing a new game. “My basketball career started when my AAU coach saw me walking around town” he said. “He saw that I was really tall, but I really didn’t know how to play basketball. He brought me into the game and started teaching me.” Now several years later, Coronado is in his first season with the Flames after transferring from Palm Beach State. Coronado, a sophomore, has started 31-of-35 games for the Flames, carrying the responsibility of being Liberty’s primary rebounder with 8.2 boards per game.

John Caleb Sanders

Flames fans familiar with the program know the story of John Caleb Sanders, but it is still a remarkable one to tell. The youngest of six children, the Sugar Land, Texas, native grew up playing one-on-one basketball with his older brothers. John Caleb witnessed his brother, Thomas, earn AP All-America Honorable Mention honors at Gardner-Webb in 2008, followed by Jesse in 2011 with Liberty. In John Caleb’s first two seasons at Liberty, he and Jesse were a tandem, stepping onto the court with an innate chemistry. With Jesse’s departure at the conclusion of last season, John Caleb took a larger role as the Flames’ on-court and locker room leader. While he has not earned the same individual honors his brothers have, Liberty’s leading scorer lived the dream they all shared growing up, as he made his first NCAA Tournament appearance. During the Flames’ Big South Championship run, John Caleb suffered a sprained ankle in Liberty’s semifinal matchup against Gardner-Webb. Heading into the finals with Charleston Southern, the junior guard was unable to get a wink of sleep because of the pain. Despite the lack of rest, John Caleb received the starting nod against the Buccaneers, tying his career high with a 27-point performance en route to the 87-76 victory. The run to the NCAA Tournament was, by some standards, miraculous. A team that had only 11 victories overall and six conference victories, won four games in the conference championship to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament’s First Four. Dreams aren’t only for kids. Eric Brown works for Liberty’s Athletic Communications office and covers the men’s basketball team.

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

21


From Hardwood to Hardback BY BRETT HONEYCUTT

FORMER COLLEGE AND WNBA STAR CHARLOTTE SMITH HAS USED LIFE’S CHALLENGES FOR INSPIRATION TO HELP OTHERS

22

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013


Photo provided by: Charlotte Smith

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

23


I

t’s called “The Shot” and, according to ESPNW writer Mechelle Voepel, it is “the most memorable moment in women’s NCAA Tournament history.” That shot, by Charlotte Smith in the 1994 NCAA women’s basketball tournament, was a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave North Carolina a stunning 60-59 victory against then-perennial national power Louisiana Tech. But Smith has accomplished more than just “The Shot” that people watch replays of each year during the NCAA Tournament. She was the most outstanding player of that tournament, she was named to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Team, and she was an All-American, two-time All-ACC player, and the recipient of an ESPN ESPY as the Best Female College Basketball Player in 1995. She went on to a successful 10-year ABL and WNBA professional career, was an assistant at North Carolina for nine years, and she just finished her second season in her first head coaching role, at Elon, where the Phoenix finished third in the 11-team Southern Conference this season after finishing fourth the previous season. And, she’s also an author of a new book, When Coaches Pray: A guide for every minute of the game of life. “I love to read the Bible, so initially I was just reading and just writing, and as the Spirit led it led into some devotionals,” Smith tells Sports Spectrum concerning why she wrote the book. “I love to do Bible study on the road with my team…I just started accumulating a lot of writings, and just in my career as a coach, I really started to see the need for coaches to be empowered and coaches to be reminded of why we coach.” She likens her coaching style to the quiet leadership of a Tony Dungy, but admitted that when she needs to come down on the team she can do it in the right way. “Every now and then you have to rattle the cage a little bit,” she says. “But I know how to do it in such a way that I get my point across. The Bible says, “Become angry, but do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26) I know how to get my point across without getting out of the character of Christ.” Smith knows the struggles of players, coaches and people in general, as she related a story of her own personal struggles while she was playing professionally, and not feeling like she could be used. Then, she sensed God wanted her to start a Bible study with her team. Even though she was reluctant, she obeyed God’s call. “A lady that worked for a camera crew at the games, so we invited her to one of our Bible studies at that time,” Smith tells

24

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

All photos provided by: Charlotte Smith

Sports Spectrum. “You know you never really know what people are going through, and God puts people in your life for a reason and in your path for a reason. I didn’t know the lady, but I just felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to invite her to our Bible study. And, then a few days later, I got an email from her. In the subject line, I’ll never forget, it said, did you know that you were my angel? And she talked about how she, too, was going through a horrible marriage, a bad marriage, at the time. I’m going through the same thing. She talked about how she was so depressed, that that very day, right before I invited her to the Bible study, she decided she was going to go to the bank and withdraw money to purchase a gun and commit suicide. And how just being part of that Bible study and that day changed her life, changed her perspective and gave her hope. The Bible says that He works all things together for the good (Romans 8:28), and having gone through those struggles in my marriage, I can see how He used that for good. Because I think about if I had never started the Bible study, never invited her to the Bible study, maybe her life would have been different.” Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum magazine.


SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

25


THE (BUTLER)

WAY BUTLER UNIVERSITY HEAD

COACH BRAD STEVENS AND HIS WIFE, TRACY, RELY ON FAITH IN A WHIRLWIND OF BACK-TOBACK NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES. COULD ANOTHER BE COMING? BY STEPHEN COPELAND 28

S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ FA L L 2 0 1 1


Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

27


T

he last three years have been a whirlwind for Brad and Tracy Stevens. The 2009-2010 season was crazy enough, when Brad and his Cinderella Butler University Bulldogs nearly knocked off almighty Duke in the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game. Then came the 20102011 season when No. 8 seeded Butler made another unexpected run to the title game—the only Indiana team ever to advance to back-to-back Final Fours. Brad and Tracy didn’t expect it—the fame, the coaching offers, the fact that the 36-year-old, baby-faced coaching genius Brad Stevens is suddenly a household name and an American obsession. Sports Illustrated called Stevens an expert “on breaking down tape and looking at statistical trends to find opponents’ weaknesses.” Yahoo! Sports compared him to a young John Wooden, the most legendary coach in college basketball. And “The Butler Way” has become a national phenomenon. The road they’re on, it’s crazy. “We’ve realized the crazier it gets, the more important faith is,” Tracy says. “It’s such an important part…The crazier it gets the more important it is to be grounded.” The last decade of the Stevens’ lives has certainly been well-documented. Tracy and Brad meet at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., about an hour west of Indianapolis. Brad lands a high-paying job at Indianapolis pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. Brad leaves Lilly to become a volunteer assistant on Butler’s coaching staff. They marry. Brad is named head coach of Butler. And the rest, of course, is history. Their faith, however, has affected the decisions they’ve made and has been the underlying factor in the way they live their lives. “It’s directed me,” Brad says. “It’s been a great source of comfort and inspiration. It’s certainly something— just like as a coach, husband, and father—that I’m trying to get better at.” Since they started dating as sophomores at DePauw University, it’s been vital to Brad and Tracy’s relationship.


GORDON HAYWARD RONALD NORED ROTNEI CLARKE Brad, a Methodist, and Tracy, a former Catholic, began “discussing the virtues of both religions” while dating and began exploring different churches every Sunday because “it was something we wanted to figure out before we got married.” “What we learned over the years is that the stronger our faith, the stronger our relationship was, and the happier we were, and the more grounded we felt,” Tracy says. “The stronger our faith, the stronger our relationship, and the richer our lives. It takes time to figure that out. It takes practice.” Perhaps one reason why the Stevens’ faith has gone practically unmentioned in the media is because Brad isn’t particularly overt about his beliefs like a Kurt Warner or Tim Tebow. Like his coaching style, he isn’t flashy. He isn’t in-your-face. He is quiet and reserved. But still, he’s a leader. “He has found himself to be a public figure, and when he thought about going into coaching, that was not on his radar,”

Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

REMEMBER THE MAGIC

THERE’S A REASON WHY WE KEEP WRITING STORIES ON AMERICA’S FAVORITE UNDERDOG: BRAD STEVENS DOES THINGS THE RIGHT WAY, THE BUTLER WAY, AND THAT INCLUDES THE PLAYERS HE RECRUITS. CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO THE LEFT TO READ SS STORIES ON THESE BULLDOG GREATS

Tracy says. “It’s hard to balance your public persona and your private persona. He lives with it, and he acts out his faith every day, but he is very private.” Brad has spoken several times to the St. Luke’s United Methodist congregation in Indianapolis and also in small groups, but as Tracy says, most of the time you’ll find Brad sitting in the back of church taking notes, thinking and reflecting. It’s their Sunday mornings that they treasure the most—when Tracy and Brad go to breakfast and church with their two children, Brady (7) and Kinsley (4). “It’s a precious time,” Tracy says. “It’s not only family time, but also a time to get centered, grounded and inspired.” According to Sports Spectrum sources, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy mentored Brad and even urged him to speak at the Athletes in Action Final Four breakfast in Houston. Said Stevens at the breakfast: “This is my second time here, participating in the

Final Four, and if we don’t win you know it’s ultimately OK, because that is not how I get my validation. The verse that always comes to my mind is, ‘Trust in the Lord in all of your ways and seek him first (Proverbs 3:5-6). That’s what I want to do as a coach.” Amidst the whirlwind and euphoria surrounding back-to-back national championship appearances, Brad and Tracy remain grounded and focused—as they always have. “It keeps things in perspective,” Brad says. “I’m not a person that gets too wrapped up around one game or one loss. You have to try your best to focus on the next task and try to do as well as you possibly can. It allows me to understand that there is a bigger picture in all of this.” Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist for Sports Spectrum magazine.

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

29 31


. J . .A

I

F O S T E S E T R R T U S O C E H E L T H A T M N O I O D R T F R , E A A L C V T I , S T E L A N L O I SE T V Y S I E U P O N D L A R F C A O L U L G A T N N A G POI O L S ER A D Y N HAS Y BY KEN S L P P A

Doug Pensinger / Getty Images


Andy Lyons / Getty Images

S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ D I G I M A G 2 0 1 32

33 31


T

he scene would have been familiar to basketball fans of the University of Louisville: Peyton Siva going endto-end to dunk a game-winner over a 7-footer as time expired. It didn’t matter that the game was the last of a series of exhibitions on a Far East mission trip against a Russian team. It was time for someone to step up and take responsibility for the game’s outcome. Accepting responsibility and responding to pressure is nothing new for the shy 6-footer whose face easily creases into a glowing, world-class smile. He grew up in one of the roughest areas of Se-

attle with criminal tentacles extending into his family and all but ensnaring Siva himself. “My brother, he was in jail. My Dad was in and out of jail. My sister had been in and out of jail,” says Siva. The classic basketball as the “route-out” story had a different plot line for Siva. His talent as even a high school freshman attracted assorted hangers-on, back-slappers, etc.—the “entourage.” “He had so many people pulling at him at such a young age,” recalls Danny Cage, youth pastor at Mount Calvary Christian Center in Seattle. That pressure brought Siva to Cage, the church, and ultimately, to God. “He wanted to be focused spiritually through that. It separated him from the pack. He would study scriptures, and fast, and would ask to be held accountable,” adds Cage. A Cage acronym “I.A.J.,” “It’s All Jesus,” undergirded Siva through a high school career that included selection as a McDonald’s High School All-American.


Siva’s selection by Louisville, among numerous suitors, and the path to the Big East and big-time basketball is not the most important one carved by God in his life and in his family. Today, Siva’s father, brother and sister are all in church. Cage, who is on the phone to Louisville daily, says what Siva wouldn’t: They have come to know God through Peyton. The two-week mission trip to the Far East after Siva’s freshman year was a chance for those around Siva to see him step up at critical times in games like the one against a Russian team. As well, it was an opportunity for others to see that there is something different and special about him. “His mannerisms, the way he carries himself, the way the guys respond to him—people follow him,” says Robby Speer of Sports Reach, whose ministry sponsored the trip. “He’s a leader. He accepts responsibility.” Accepting responsibility at crunch time for Louisville, which

is in, arguably, the toughest conference in college basketball is, again, something familiar to Cardinal fans. You can see it in the final minutes of close games; Siva wants the ball and the responsibility for the outcome. For him, however, it is part of a larger responsibility. “God lifts us up so we can lift Him up,” Siva says. “He’s definitely using me in basketball to give Him glory and to use me to show other kids that God is with you and God has a plan for you no matter whether it’s basketball, football or being a doctor.” Or learning to overcome the pressures of early fame and Seattle streets. Ken Snyder is a freelance writer who lives in Kentucky. All photos provided by: University of Louisville Athletics

Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

33


A CRAFT CRAFTSMAN OF SORTS

OHIO STATE GUARD AARON CRAFT EXCELS ON THE FLOOR, IN THE CLASSROOM, AND IN HIS MISSION BY AARON MAY Jamie Sabau / Getty Images


SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

35


I

t’s Saturday, March 31, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana—the host site of the Final Four. Ohio State is playing Kansas, and the winner will advance to the NCAA Championship game. Ohio State is down 64-61 and Aaron Craft is heading to the free throw line for a one-and-one. There are only 2.9 seconds left. Craft makes the first, but will need to miss the second and hope that he or one of his teammates can get the rebound and a put-back to tie the game. Craft throws the ball towards the rim and actually gets the rebound himself! But he leaves early; the whistles blow. A lane violation. Kansas ball. Ohio State once lead the game by 13, but when the final horn sounded, they had lost by two. “In the moment, it’s really frustrating, really angry, especially when it’s just one possession, any thing can change the game,” Craft says. But Craft already had a different perspective than most. Just the previous weekend, Craft’s brother, Brandon, deployed for Afghanistan for the Army on the same day Craft and his teammates had the Elite Eight game against Syracuse. The Buckeyes went on to win that game and advance to the Final Four, but his brother’s deployment that day helped Aaron remember that life wasn’t all about winning and losing basketball games. “It just put things into perspective,” Craft explains. We’re playing a game that seems like it means a lot. My brother, and there’s so many other people out there that are fighting for something that is a lot bigger than just playing basketball.” And that Final Four loss to Kansas wasn’t such a great disappointment as it seemed in the moment. “Looking back, we were one of the last four teams in America playing college basketball and that’s something to be proud of and something we were really fortunate to be a part of,” Craft says. Heading into his junior season, Craft has become one of Ohio State’s main stars and might be the most recognizable guy on campus that doesn’t play football. “It’s weird, to be honest,” he says. “I don’t know. It’s something that just kind of creeps up on you. And I remember coming here freshman year and making fun of John (Diebler) because everyone recognized him and knew who he was. And now it’s kind of come to me and my other teammates.” But what has kept Craft grounded through all of the pressures and emotions that come with Ohio State athletics and having a brother overseas, is his faith in God and involvement in Athletes

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2012 All photos provided by: Ohio State University Athletics

in Action. “I came to Ohio State and was really close to John Diebler and he introduced me to Athletes in Action,” he says. “Monday nights, student athletes lead a Bible study, which is really cool hearing from one of your peers. And then Wednesday nights are weekly meetings for anyone who wants to come out. We average around 100 people, which is awesome...It keeps me grounded and humbled amidst all the things that we have to do for basketball.” Craft is frequently asked to be a guest speaker at Athletes in Action meetings and often uses the story of the rich young ruler, who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. “I get to emcee every once and a while, which is really cool, too,” he says. “For whatever reason, people want to listen to me talk. I don’t know if they’ll feel the same way after I’m done, but it’s always great to be able to do that and share just how God worked in my life to get me to the point that I am right now.” Even with everything he has on his plate to worry about, Craft, a nutrition major, still manages to find enough time for his schoolwork. He was a first team Academic All-American last season. “I enjoy school,” he says. “I would say I’m somewhat of a nerd. So that definitely helps.” As the new 2012-13 season rapidly approaches, Ohio State is expected to be a contender for the Big Ten championship and make a deep run into the tournament. Both pre-season polls (AP, Coaches) have them ranked fourth overall. But they will do so without last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, Jared Sullinger, who now plays in the NBA for the Boston Celtics. The Buckeyes will likely need a little more scoring and playmaking out of it’s starting point guard. Despite all the expectations and pressure that media and fans will cast on him and his teammates this season, Craft feels that God is teaching him to simply have fun with the game of basketball. “He’s probably teaching me to believe in Him and believe in myself—to not try and push too much,” Craft says. “With the season coming up and with new things happening and expectations and all that, it’s really easy to get caught up in trying to force things and try and rush things and get outside of what I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. So just slowing down and relaxing and having fun playing the game of basketball, because that’s what it’s for in the long run.” Aaron May is a contributor to Sports Spectrum magazine.


S P O R T S S P E C T R U M ~ D I G I M A G 2 0 1 32

39 37


INDIANA SOPHOMORE CODY ZELLER HAS ALWAYS FOLLOWED IN HIS BROTHERS’ FOOTSTEPS, BUT NOW HE’S WRITING HIS OWN STORY BY HELPING RESURRECT HOOSIER BASKETBALL hen you grow up a Zeller, you have some big shoes to fill. And it’s not just because Luke and Tyler wear size 18 and 19 shoes, respectively. The eldest brother, Luke, led Washington High School to an Indiana Class 3A championship, swooshing a miracle heave from mid-court his senior season in 2005. The middle brother, current University of North Carolina star senior Tyler, led the Hatchets to another title in 2008 and set an Indiana scoring record during his senior campaign. And to top it off, both received the illustrious Indiana Mr. Basketball award and were named McDonald’s All-Americans their senior seasons. Enter Cody. Big shoes to fill? Psh. If they were, it was only because his shoe size is 16. The youngest Zeller did the exact same thing. State championship (three, to be exact). Mr. Basketball. McDonald’s All-American. Division I scholarship. With all that hardware, Steve and Lorri Zeller could turn their home into a museum. And their wardrobe—between Notre Dame (Luke), North Carolina (Tyler) and Indiana (Cody)—probably looks like a case of Crayola Crayons. But that’s where the inconceivable parallel structure of their stories takes a sudden turn. Luke went to Notre Dame, a perennial Big East contender. Tyler went to North Carolina, which won the NCAA title his freshman season. And Cody went to struggling Indiana.


BY STEPHEN COPELAND

FAiTH

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

39


“I WANT TO BE A CHRISTIAN AND REPRESENT CHRIST’S KINGDOM. I WANT PEOPLE TO LOOK AT ME AND WANT TO KNOW CHRIST.”


HOOSIER BOUND

One hour up the road, a storied college basketball program was catastrophically imploding. Cody was a freshman at Washington when former Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson was caught in recruiting violations, a sin that crippled current coach Tom Crean and his program for the next three years. During those three years, Cody won more state championships (2) than Indiana had post-season appearances (0), had fewer total losses (10) than the Hoosiers had in conference play last season (15) and nearly had an equal number of wins (68) as IU had losses (66). You can understand, then, why the youngest Zeller was dubbed the savior of Indiana basketball once he turned down Butler and North Carolina to commit to the Hoosiers last November. “I don’t look at myself as a savior, because there is only one Savior,” Cody says. But all of Indiana did. Quite a bit of pressure for an 18-year-old… at least you’d think. “You’d ask Cody, and he’d say, ‘What expectations?’” says his mother Lorri. “He doesn’t worry about a lot of things. Good sense of humor. Flexible. Goes with the flow. Our other boys may be more detail-oriented. Cody is like, ‘Eh, it’s no good to worry about it.’ “If anyone could handle it, it was Cody.”

THE BIG HANDSOME

Over 50 media outlets were in attendance when Cody made a simple two-second statement that was supposedly going to put Indiana basketball back on the map. “Next year, I’m going to IU.” Luke recalls a member of the media asking afterward about pressure: “Cody responded by saying, ‘You guys put the pressure on. I don’t feel any pressure. I just decided to go to college, and you guys cared.’” That perspective is what Luke calls “childlike faith,” something Cody learned from watching his two older brothers undergo big game after big game throughout their careers and remain the same whether win or lose. At the end of the day, it’s just basketball…yes, even in Indiana. Instead of wrapping his identity up in an orange ball, Cody just laughs it off, tweets that he’s going to wear a “#44 North Carolina jersey with big ears, a big nose and clown shoes” for Halloween and changes his mother’s Facebook status to read “I’m so thankful for my boys, especially Tyler because he’s adopted.” “He’s the king of one liners,” Tyler says. “His pranks are pretty diversified,” says Luke. Even Luke’s wife, Hope, noticed while watching home videos that—at the mere age of three—Cody had the same mischievous and untrustworthy grin he has today. “You can just see that the wheels are turning,” Luke says. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the “chillest” of the Zellers wound up at Indiana. After all, if you’re the guy who routinely rubber bands the trigger on the sprayer in the kitchen sink so it shoots you in the face (“The kitchen sink prank is ongoing,” Luke jokes), you can certainly laugh about a fake Cody Zeller Twitter account called “The Big Handsome,” a Hoosier phenomenon that has generated almost 9,000 followers, student section t-shirts and a music video with nearly 30,000 views. “We always talk, and it’s fun to be able to talk and share stories,” Tyler says. “Cody loves it. It fits his personality.” Cody Zeller is the big man on campus. And perhaps you’re going to be when you’re nearly seven-feet tall, and you’ve helped resurrect Hoosier basketball from its crimson ashes with victories against three top-five teams during the regular season. But just like high school, he doesn’t feel it. Instead, he fills out fake applications for Luke’s basketball ministry, the latest of which was the name of a prisoner with the penitentiary’s phone number listed as a reference. “Pressure,” Luke says, “is something everyone else puts on him,

not that he puts on himself…Cody has a great big-picture perspective of the world and at an age most people wouldn’t expect.”

ROOTS

The Zellers followed one another on the court. But they also followed one another off the court. Luke set an example for Tyler, who set an example for Cody. And they’ve all strived to stay on the straight and narrow, upholding the squeaky-clean Zeller reputation. That ranges from academic (in high school, Luke had a perfect 4.0 GPA, Tyler slacked with a 3.97, and Cody did okay with a 3.99) to social (Cody calls the spotlight a “blessing” because whatever he does will be all over Facebook and Twitter) and even spiritual. Cody remembers being a freshman at Washington and watching his senior and North Carolina-bound brother Tyler make an impact far greater than bringing Washington its fifth state championship. “Tyler was a nationally known guy, but he used his platform to further Christ’s Kingdom,” Cody says. “I kind of realized, ‘That could be me one day.’” That “one day” is here. And Cody’s platform may be bigger than he expected. His 54,000 Twitter followers who have seen his Christian symbol avatar and Philippians 4:13 background is just an example. “At the end of the day, we could have a lot of awards, but what’s the legacy we’re going to leave?” Luke says. “What’s the impact we’ll echo into eternity?” Cody says he hit the “jackpot” playing at Indiana under head coach Tom Crean. The fourth-year Hoosier coach prays with the team before and after every game, schedules Sunday practices around morning worship and is constantly tweeting encouraging quotes from pastor Jack Graham, evangelist Joyce Meyer and church planter James MacDonald. In a long one-on-one meeting, Crean told Cody it was important to not only improve on the hardwood but also improve in every aspect of life. He also stressed the importance of church, which Cody attends regularly with a handful of his teammates. Some Indiana students have caught on, too, and have attended Cody’s church to— at the very least—catch a glimpse of the 7-footer behind Indiana’s magical rise to the top. “I know a lot of people do look up to me because of my basketball ability,” Cody says. “But I try to be a good role model off the court and live for the Lord. I hope others will follow in my footsteps. I want to be a Christian and represent Christ’s Kingdom. I want people to look at me and want to know Christ.” That passion, Cody says, comes from his brothers. “They paved the way for me,” Cody continues. “So many people looked up to Luke, and as Tyler got better, so many people looked up to him. They just lived the Christian life.” Hoosier nation hopes “The Big Handsome” continues to follow his brothers’ footsteps. Because that means one of the projected top picks in the 2013 NBA Draft will—cough—stay all four seasons. No pressure. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

41


OPINION

ANOTHER ANGLE BY STEPHEN COPELAND

stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com | Follow @steve_copeland

Cody Zeller, man of mischief

W

ho is Cody Zeller? What’s behind the even-keeled Indiana University sophomore who acts the same whether he’s the victim of a bad call or catalyst behind a highlight jam—who would probably show the same seemingly emotionless stare whether he was swimming in a pool of crocodiles or a pool of swimsuit models? With the help of his oldest brother, Luke, who played for the Phoenix Suns this season, we’ve learned what lies behind Tom Crean’s prize recruit who has helped lead IU to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2002. The answer is simple. A mischievous grin…

The Sprayer

Everything starts somewhere. A plant with a seed. A building with a brick. The proclamation that Indiana University basketball had returned with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Kentucky last season. (Just saying.) Cody’s pranking career arguably began with “The Sprayer.” Rubber band + kitchen sink sprayer + turning the faucet on = wet face. Gotcha.

A Cody Christmas

Gift No. 1: Dating Survival Kit Right when Luke started dating his wife, Hope, Cody created a “Dating Survival Kit” for his brother. “He’s really creative with his Christmas gifts,” Luke laughs. In the kit were three types of mouthwash, deodorant, cologne, and most importantly, a note from Cody reading: “If all else fails, call me, and I’ll help you out.” “He was a sophomore in high school,” Luke laughs. “He had never even dated a girl.” Gift No. 2: Welcome to the Family It’s one thing to do the box-inside-a-box-inside-a-box trick, but it’s another to do it to your brother’s girlfriend during her first Christmas with the family. As she fumbled through each box, Luke remembers thinking, “Okay, let’s get on with it.” She eventually opened the last box and found…nothing. “This is terrible,” she joked. “This is all you got me?” She eventually found money taped to the back of the smallest box. Miracle she stuck around. Gift No. 3: December Taxes As much of a headache Cody’s gift was for Hope, at least he gave her a thoughtful amount of money. Luke, on the other hand, received a whopping $3.27 from Cody one Christmas. And of course, there was a note to go along with it, reading something like: “Christmas gift: $200; Federal tax: 2.5%, Income tax: 2.4%, Sales tax: 2.0%, Social Security tax: 1.5%, Luke getting married tax: 90%.” 42

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

That comes to 98.4 percent in taxes. $3.27(ish) remaining. Maybe enough for a gallon of milk?

Log Out or Pay the Price

NEVER forget to log off Facebook. When his mother made the mistake, Cody made her pay, updating her status to read: “I’m so thankful for my boys, especially Tyler because he’s adopted.” Then he watched her phone explode with confounded text messages. “I may have had something to do with that one,” Luke smirks. Really, people? You think the Zellers just happened to adopt someone who is as tall as his two brothers… who looks practically identical…who is also good at basketball? “People really believed it,” Luke laughs. “For some people, Facebook is their only perception of you.”

“He (Cody) can get away with it. It’s part of being the youngest. He’d love to be able to tell you it was his idea…but he won’t tell you until three months later. He just likes pulling pranks and smirking.” License to Panic

On Luke and Hope’s wedding day, Cody managed to get his hands on Luke’s wallet and hide his license behind his insurance card. Pretty harmless. Following their wedding night, however, Luke and Hope were supposed to meet their families for brunch that morning. The problem was that Luke couldn’t get his car out of valet parking. He thought he lost his license. “I knew immediately it was him,” Luke recalls. The newlyweds eventually made it, but they were considerably late. And you know what everyone was thinking…

Hoping to Bathe?

When three people in your household are practically on stilts, some of life’s small tasks, like bathing, become more complicated. So what did parents Steve and Lorri Zeller do? They got an adjustable showerhead for their sons’ bathroom. “We no longer had to feel like we were the hunchback of Notre Dame,” says Luke, who played four years for the Fighting Irish. When Luke and Hope return to the Zeller household, Cody positions the shower head so the water flies over Hope—who is only 5 feet, 2 inches tall. Columnist’s note: Personally, I would feel bad for Hope. Many of the pranks in this column oddly involve her. However, I recently discovered


Lance King / Getty Images

she went to Bethel College, which, if you’re familiar with NAIA Division II basketball in northern Indiana (I’m sure most of you are), you’ll know that their nemesis is Grace College. I graduated from Grace. She deserves everything…and more.

Death Row Applicant

When Luke isn’t playing professional basketball, he’s managing his basketball ministry “Distinxion,” one of his biggest passions in life. Anyway, at the beginning of Cody’s spring semester at IU, he decided to fill out a volunteer form for Luke’s ministry. But instead of using his own name for the application, Luke believes Cody spent three to four hours conducting research. The name Cody chose was an inmate at the state penitentiary who happens to be on death row. For the sake of storytelling, we’ll call him Kelvin Sampson. And in the reference section, Cody put the penitentiary’s phone number. While other students are out on Friday evenings making IU one of the top-20 party schools in the nation, Cody is delving into the life story of a convicted felon. “He puts a lot of work into these,” Luke laughs. The goal of the prank? Imagine this: Luke: “Hi, I just had a couple questions.” State penitentiary: “Yeah, how can I help you?” Luke: “I’m thinking about hiring someone by the name of Mr. Sampson, and he listed you as a reference. I wanted to ask you about him.” State penitentiary: “First name?” Luke: “Kelvin.” State penitentiary: “Uh…”

Luke: “Yes?” State penitentiary: “Sir, this is the state penitentiary. Kelvin Sampson is on death row. He murdered 53 people in the 1960’s. Wouldn’t recommend hiring him.” Fortunately for Luke, he caught it. (And no, Kelvin Sampson, the much despised former IU coach, didn’t kill anyone, but because of his numerous NCAA violations, he did kill a basketball program— one that Tom Crean has brought back to life.) “He (Cody) can get away with it,” Luke says. “It’s part of being the youngest. He’d love to be able to tell you it was his idea… but he won’t tell you until three months later. He just likes pulling pranks and smirking.” Indiana University will need Cody’s creativity at the Big Dance this year, as he and the Hoosiers look to live up to the hype swarming around them as a No. 1 seed and put themselves in position to raise a sixth banner. Unlikely, perhaps. But Stephen Copeland is a staff who knows? writer and columnist at Hoosier nation could Sports Spectrum magazine. use an early Christmas His column tackles sports gift. and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial.

SPORTS SPECTRUM ~ DIGIMAG 2013

43



March Madness 2013 Special Issue