Nic Zeil’s transformation from solid contributor of the Park Hill boys basketball team to leading scorer in the span of one year had the senior forward second-guessing his college decision.
Zeil was signed, sealed and delivered to play basketball at Truman State before he turned into the Trojans’ leading scorer during his final prep season. Zeil averaged nearly 16 points per game while grabbing almost 10 rebounds.
“Nic’s game really took a step up this year,” Park Hill coach Chad Jones said. “He went from a player that had a supporting roll last year to the guy that had to lead us in everything this season.”
That success made Zeil reconsider his Division II scholarship offer and consider trying his luck with Division I programs.
“As the season went on, I had a feeling in my gut that I wanted to try something more,” Zeil said. “I really kind of surprised myself during my high school season. I really thought to myself that I could really do this.”
“You can tell as the season was going on, you can see him getting the bug,” Darin Mason, Zeil’s club coach, said. “He was feeling like he was not doing the best he could (with Truman State).”
So he took a chance. Zeil went through Truman State to back out of his national letter of intent, the first step in being allowed to talk with other NCAA programs.
“I was just thankful to God that Truman understood my feelings,” Zeil said. “I’m beyond thankful that they allowed me to do this and they were so cool with my decision.”
The next step? Find a D-I program that would have him. The search was short lived.
Mason, who has served as Zeil’s private instructor and his coach through the KC Pacers’ club organization, arranged Zeil a visit to Creighton.
“On the same day (of the visit) he called me and said ‘I’m going to Creighton,’” Mason said. “It’s a great place.”
Zeil will play for the Bluejays as a walk-on, while pursuing a degree in the school’s prominent business school.
“I didn’t feel like a walk-on,” the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Zeil said of his tryout. “I felt wanted and I was a priority to them. That caught me off guard.”
“We were all honest with him,” Mason said. “We told him that there was a chance he’d never play at Creighton. He may never get on the court.”
That doesn’t scare Zeil, who was selected as a first team member of the all-conference and all-district teams this past season. He was also one of 15 seniors in the city to play in the Greater Kansas City Coaches Association All-Star Game last month.
“This first year I’m a walk-on, but I’m going to fight like a dog to get that scholarship spot,” he said.
With his sights set on Omaha, Zeil passes up on an opportunity to play with his brother, Tanner, who will be a redshirt junior next season. But it’s all worth it, he said, for a shot to prove himself at the top level in college basketball.
“It’s been crazy,” he said. “After I was released from Truman, from that point on it was a mad scramble to find out where I was going to play. But my coach immediately got me on a visit to Creighton. … (Mason) had all the connections and he made my lifelong dream of going to Creighton a dream come true. He’s the one that got me to where I am.”
ON THE GRIDIRON
Two area football players were selected to play in the BeYouUnion.com Missouri vs. Kansas All-Star Game next month.
The Missouri roster, guided by Van Horn coach William Harris, features Park Hill’s Cory Reiter and Platte County’s Dylan Gilbert.
Both future players — Gilbert at Washburn and Reiter at Quincy — will be on the offensive side of the ball at wide receiver and offensive line, respectively.
The game will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 13 at the Olathe School District Athletic Complex next to Olathe Northwest High School.
STILL FLYING HIGH
South Dakota vaulter Chris Nilsen claimed his third straight Summit League championship in the pole vault on May 10 in Macomb, Illinois.
Nilsen, a Park Hill graduate, cleared 19 feet, 0.75 inches, breaking his own meet record, to claim the title. He was awarded the meet’s Most Outstanding Performer honor. It was his fourth clearance of 19-feet this season.
Nilsen is currently on The Bowerman Watch List. Last season Nilsen was a semifinalist for the honor that’s treated as The Heisman of collegiate track and field.
Nilsen and 18 of his teammates will participate in the NCAA West Preliminary meet, which begins Thursday, May 23. Nilsen has the top height entering the meet at 19-2.25, a mark he set at the Drake Relays.
Platte County graduate Shelley Laures recently was honored by her NAIA conference for a record-breaking performance in the heptathlon.
Laures, a senior at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, took first place in the Heart of America Athletic Conference women’s heptathlon on her way to claiming the league’s women’s field athlete of the meet honor.
Laures compiled 4,443 points to break the meet record that was set in 2011. She won the javelin, 800 meters, high jump and shot put.
Laures will participate in both the heptathlon and javelin events at the NAIA national meet, which begins Thursday, May 23 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.