Late in the second week of NBA Summer League this July, Luke Zeller sat with his old junior varsity high school coach -- the one who watched from the bench, alongside Luke's brother Tyler, as Zeller sank a half-court, game-winning bomb to win the Indiana High School 2005 state title in a moment that's known Hoosierwide, simply, as The Shot
-- and watched his younger brother thrash through the lane against NBA competition for the first time.
Tyler Zeller, the No. 17 pick in the 2012 Draft, stood out from the start in Vegas. Granted, Summer League lanes aren't quite what they are in the NBA, but the former UNC pivot did what he pleased in the paint, showing off strength and size and the pure basketball skills that made the Zellers (Luke, Tyler and Cody, the 2012-13 Sporting News Preseason Player of the Year at Indiana) basketball royalty in Indiana. And this time, Luke was the one watching.
As he sat there, having gotten just limited minutes with the Spurs in Vegas, Zeller had some decisions to make. After a solid, yet not spectacular NBA D-League season -- one that saw him spend most of the Austin Toros' postseason run on the bench in foul trouble -- he didn't look to have much of a stake in an NBA career that once looked like a birthright for Indiana's 2005 Mr. Basketball.
Then he got an invite to Phoenix Suns camp. Even without Steve Nash, the Suns still favored a wide-open, European (basketball or soccer -- take your pick) style of play, and Zeller's ability to hit from outside made him at least a little attractive
. Even just as a body in training camp. But, competing with Ike Diogu and Solomon Jones, both his athletic superiors, it looked like Zeller would be destined for another NBA D-League run or a plane ticket out of the States. Diogu had played far more than the other two, and until Zeller logged 25 turnover-free minutes in the Suns' loss to OKC on Friday, he hadn't gotten much of a look.
Then, on Thursday, news came that the Suns cut Diogu and Jones
(though even this report lists Luke as Tyler
), trimming the roster to 15 and, at least for now, leaving Zeller on the roster. He's still got a lot of work to do (including improving on his 5-for-18 preseason shooting clip) to play his way into a regular spot in the Phoenix rotation and avoid the ax on Jan. 10, when teams usually jettison non-guaranteed contracts, but for now, this is a big step for one of the NBA D-League's good guys.