Daviess County might be named for a Kentuckian, but it’s embraced, produced, perpetuated, and exported one of Indiana’s greatest crops: basketball — including bushel baskets of ballplayers.
Washington High School ranks third in the list of most Indiana High School boys basketball state championships. It has seven, one behind Marion and Muncie Central, who are tied with eight.
Washington’s first three came in 1930, 1941 and 1942, long before the advent of the IHSAA class tourney. The last four came as 3A champs, led by the legendary Zeller boys: Luke, Tyler, and Cody.
None of the Zellers were born in Daviess County (they moved to Washington in 1993 when the oldest, Luke, was 6), but they soon owned its hardwood and brought back the hardware. From 2001 to 2011, they led Washington High School to four state championships — 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2011. Luke’s one championship in 2005 came with his legendary last-second, midcourt, game-winning shot in overtime.
All three brothers were named Indiana Mr. Basketball their senior year and a McDonald’s All-American. Luke graduated from Washington in 2005; Tyler graduated in 2008; and Cody in 2011. After high school, all three received scholarships at storied college basketball programs — Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Indiana, respectively. All three played, at least briefly, in the NBA.
But before the Zeller trio came, there was Robert David “Big Dave” DeJernett. Born appropriately on George Washington’s birthday in 1912 in Kentucky, the future Washington Hatchet star came to Daviess County soon after. A member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, DeJernett is remembered for integrating the Washington Hatchets and leading them to their first Indiana state title as a junior in the 1929–30 season. The Hatchets were the first integrated high school basketball state champions in U.S. history.
As a 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore, DeJernett was put on the varsity squad in 1928 and was named to the All-State team after the Hatchets lost in the 1929 state finals.
In the 1930 championship game, DeJernett led Washington over the Muncie Central Bearcats 32–21. Muncie was also led by a Black player, Jack Mann, who stood 6-foot-6 but could not outjump DeJernett which contributed largely to the victory. The Hatchets finished with a 31-1 record that year.
As a senior, DeJernett’s Hatchets were favored to win a second state crown in the spring of 1931. Prior to an important regional match up, DeJernett received a threatening letter from the Ku Klux Klan that hinted if he played he’d meet the same fate as the two young Black men who had been lynched in Marion, Indiana, the previous summer. DeJernett not only played, he scored 14 points to lead Washington’s 22–19 victory. In the quarter finals of the state tourney, however, Muncie Central avenged their previous year’s loss to Washington, eliminating Washington 21-19 on the way to their second state championship.
Two weeks later, Notre Dame’s legendary football coach Knute Rockne was a featured speaker at a banquet of unity honoring both the Hatchets and the Washington Catholic Cardinals, winners of the 1931 Catholic Boys’ State Championship. Afterward, Rockne shook hands with members of each team. DeJernett thought Rockne might not want to shake hands with a Black man and passed by him. Rockne grabbed DeJernett by the hand and shook it. Two days later, Rockne died in a plane crash in Kansas.
In his three years on the team, DeJernett led Washington to a 75-17 record and was named All-State three times. He also became the state’s first dominant Black collegiate player. From 1931 to 1935 DeJernett played for the integrated Indiana Central College team, now known as the University of Indianapolis Greyhounds. The 1934 Greyhounds went 16–1 and posted the state’s top collegiate record. As a pro, DeJernett played for barnstorming teams, including the Harlem Globetrotters. He died suddenly of a heart attack in Indianapolis in 1964.
Named for: Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, a U.S. District Attorney for Kentucky and a major killed at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.
County seat: Washington
Indiana county number: 14