It was just one play from arguably the most competitive and entertaining boys basketball state title game in Wisconsin history, yet it will almost certainly be the one that remains as the lasting legacy of De Pere (Wisc.) High point guard Reece Zoelle. With fewer than 10 seconds remaining in overtime in De Pere's Wisconsin Division I title game tilt with Madison (Wisc.) Memorial High, Zoelle wrapped up a turnover near the baseline that should have been a game clincher. His problem began when he slipped to the floor, with the ball slipping out of his hands and the De Pere senior scrambling to recover it.
Zoelle pulled the ball back in and did what any player would do in those circumstances: He called a timeout. The problem was that his team didn't have any timeouts remaining.
What unfolded thereafter bore disturbing similarities to Chris Webber's famous end-of-game gaffe in the 1993 NCAA championship game against North Carolina. Zoelle was handed a technical foul for calling a timeout that his team didn't have, Madison Memorial's best free-throw shooter went to the line and calmly hit both attempts, and the game went into a second overtime. Eventually, Memorial emerged with an 80-78 victory, with Zoelle's technical standing as the moment that cost De Pere its first basketball state title since 1934. You can actually see the entire episode unfold in excruciating real time at the 2:10 mark of the video above.
"Trust me, I've thought about it so, so many times," Zoelle told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "I know that if I wouldn't have called that timeout, we would have come away with the gold ball."
As hard as it may be, Zoelle is moving on from the heartbreak associated with his final high school game, thanks in large part to a personal support group that has been spearheaded by his cousin and best friend, fellow Wisconsin prep star Calahan Skogman.
Sparked by his own trials with heartbreaking losses, Skogman has steadfastly reassured his cousin that the erroneous timeout call could have been made by anyone, even Skogman himself. Perhaps most importantly, he has refused to let Zoelle fixate on one moment rather than a sterling career in which he was twice named a first-team all-conference selection.
"I just told him to keep his head up," Skogman told the Press-Gazette. "He's a great player and he's had a great high school career. Obviously, you are going to feel terrible, but when it comes down to it, you have to realize you played with all your heart and you put yourself out there."
Zoelle has also been helped by an overwhelmingly compassionate response from the De Pere community, which has refused to blame him for the loss, just as Boise State fans supported place kicker Kyle Brotzman following his two missed field goals against Nevada, mis-kicks which cost the Broncos a spot in college football's BCS games.
Perhaps most importantly, Zoelle has used that support to reflect on the title game in whole, realizing that he was a part of something special. The triple overtime thriller is already widely being called one of the greatest -- if not the best -- state title game in Wisconsin history.
"I can honestly say it was the best overall basketball game that I've ever played in," Zoelle said. "I mean, there was so many different events and just crazy things and excitement in that game. I don't think I'll ever play another basketball game like that again.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime game."
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