Amid the flash and theatrics, Team Missouri needed a reliable shooter and versatile defender with a lead suddenly in jeopardy late in the fourth quarter of the DiRenna All-Star Game.
The coaches went to 6-foot-7 Park Hill senior Nic Zeil, who appeared to have ended his day just moment earlier. Instead, he re-entered the showcase game at Shawnee Mission South High School and provided a steady presence to help Missouri hold on for a 121-114 win Friday, April 12 in a game that featured a plethora of audacious 3-point shots, dunks and alley-oop attempts — both successful and ill-advised.
“I was and I wasn’t (surprised to go back in the game),” said Zeil, who finished with six points on two 3-pointers, four rebounds and a block. “I knew they needed shooting out there, and if I got the ball, I was ready to put it up and make it. It’s still basketball.”
Zeil originally entered the game in the second set of five substitutes for Missouri, which took control of the game early and didn’t look book. Kansas City Southeast’s Martaveon Jones hit three 3s in the first quarter to lead the charge, and Zeil canned his first 3 late in the second quarter.
Missouri led 65-57 at the break.
“It was fun being out here with new guys I haven’t really played with before,” Zeil said. “Hitting my shots? I love doing that, and it was all about the experience — having fun.”
Missouri’s lead grew to 81-65 early in the third quarter before Kansas rallied with a 17-5 run, capped with an alley-oop dunk for Blue Valley Northwest’s Christian Braun — the University of Kansas signee and DiRenna Award winner as announced the night before the game as the metro area’s top player. Back within four, the momentum didn’t last, and Missouri led 93-86 after the third quarter.
Zeil’s second 3 briefly made it 93-84, and Missouri’s lead got back to double digits at 112-100 in the fourth. Kansas responded one more time to close within 115-112 when Zeil came back in off the bench.
Missouri survived a few scares, and Rockhurst’s Glen McClintock buried a meaningless but impressive fadeaway 3 from the right corner as time expired to supply the final seven-point margin.
For Zeil, the DiRenna game offered another chance to represent Park Hill. He was a contributor as a sophomore before a back injury ended his season and forced him to watch a playoff run from the sidelines. He developed into a consistent presence in his final two years with the Trojans, culminating with a selection to the all-star event alongside many players he’s known for a long time.
“This was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Zeil, signed to play at Truman State alongside older brother Tanner Zeil — a 2016 Park Hill graduate who just completed his redshirt sophomore season with the Bulldogs. “There was a time when I did hurt my back early in my career when I doubted I could ever play basketball again. I’m just blessed by God to be here, blessed to be with all these people here and do what I do.”
Park Hill South senior Lamel Robinson, who led the Panthers back to the playoffs this past season, was originally slated to play in the game but did not participate.