When Cody Zeller signed with Indiana in November 2010, a string of stories were written about how Zeller’s decision made it cool to play in Bloomington again. Then Zeller began his freshman season, and the Hoosiers returned to the national conversation after a three-season absence. Not only did Indiana win 27 games and advance to the Sweet Sixteen, the Hoosiers also defeated three top-five opponents — Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan State. Credit Zeller, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.
He starts the 2013 as a top Player of the Year candidate and is the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Zeller’s Indiana team checked in at No. 1 in our Countdown.
You signed with Indiana when the Hoosiers were coming off two of the worst seasons in school history. Although you grew up in Washington, Ind., you could have gone anywhere in the country. Your older brothers Luke (Notre Dame) and Tyler (North Carolina) did not pick IU. Why Indiana when North Carolina, Butler, Florida and others wanted you?
I had confidence in what Coach (Tom) Crean was doing. The players that were already here seemed to be working hard and heading in the right direction with everything. It just felt like it was the right thing for me. A lot of people asked me why I went here and my brothers didn’t. It was a completely different situation for them, different coaches. I’m definitely happy with my decision. I’d do it all over again.”
Do you have any sense of the impact your decision had on Indiana basketball?
A little bit. I wasn’t too worried about validating all that. You have to make you’re your decision selfishly and whether it’s going to benefit you. That’s kind of what I made my decision on. All the rest of it kind of followed.”
You made another decision last spring to return to Indiana for your sophomore season, even though you figured to be a top-10 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Many freshmen can’t wait to get to the NBA. Why are you still on campus?
My final decision was that I wasn’t ready to grow up yet. Everyone tells me that college is the best years of your life. I’m not ready to pay bills, buy a house and start paying rent and everything else. It was mostly that I wasn’t ready to grow up yet. No reason to leave.”
You’ve earned a 3.6 grade point average in the Kelley School of Business, one of the top 20 business schools in the country. When will you earn your degree?
I should have it in two-and-a-half years. I came here with 16 hours out of high school. I earned six last summer and 12 more this summer.
You’ve always been a good student?
I got one A-minus my freshman year of high school in English. Tyler got an A-minus. Same class. Luke got a 4.0. Tyler and I were 3.99. Luke was the valedictorian. I was the salutatorian.
So Luke is obviously the best student?
No. Luke got that 4.0 before that English teacher got there.
Were you upset you were only salutatorian?
Actually we had co-valedictorians, and I was third, but they still gave me salutatorian. I was only mad because I had to give a speech on graduation. I thought I was getting out of the speech, but apparently not.
Visit the online store for Indiana and other editions of the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual.
You’re pretty active on Twitter. Do you do your own Tweets?
I do. Just random stuff I see around campus.
The word is that when the Arizona Diamondbacks started following your Tweets last winter, you asked if they were going to select you in the next MLB Draft?
Maybe the next Randy Johnson, a 6-11 pitcher?
I’m a catcher. Our whole family was kind of catchers. I played until seventh or eighth grade, then I had to give it up. I just didn’t have enough time.”
If the walls at the Washington High School gymnasium could talk about the two-on-two games that you, Tyler, Luke and your father (Steve) played, what would they say?
Growing up my Dad was always beating on us, making us go one-on-one. We do go at it pretty good. My Dad still tries to go at it. He’s pretty competitive. We can beat him fairly easy now. Tyler and Luke and I play more one-on-one type stuff now. We’ll do things like set up on the block and say, ‘You have three seconds to make a move.’ We’ll set up different situations like that. Stuff that you would see in a real game, not your traditional one-on-one. We definitely compete and go at each other. Once we step off the court, we’re definitely very tight.
What’s your favorite gym, other than Assembly Hall?
The Hatchet House, my high school gym. It’s unbelievable to play there. It prepared me for playing in Assembly Hall because we had so many fans and it was always so packed. Even for regular season games we might have 5,000 people there. It wasn’t too much of a change or a shock when I got to college, playing in front of 17,000 people.
Who was the toughest player you guarded last season?
John Shurna of Northwestern. Our team loves everything he does because he’s so tough to guard with everything he does. He’s undersized a little bit but he finds a way to make it. Everyone is like, ‘Hey, I can stop him.’ Then you get out there and he puts up 30.
Who was the toughest player defending you?
Tyler. He’s so strong. The bench press doesn’t say so, but he’s stronger than me. He’s faster than me. I usually have one or the other – strength or speed. But he’s pretty comparable, probably a step better.
Who is the best college coach out there not named Tom Crean?
All the great college coaches that recruited me were extremely nice. I have a lot of respect for Roy Williams (of North Carolina), just because of all stories from Tyler and how well he treated Tyler and the family.
Indiana’s breakthrough moment last season was that 73–72 win against Kentucky on Christian Watford’s three-pointer at the buzzer in Assembly Hall. This season, Indiana isn’t playing Kentucky, at least not in the regular season. Are you disappointed?
I don’t care too much. We’re still going to have a strong schedule. It was a fun game last year, but I don’t think it’s too big of a deal we’re not playing them this year.”
Other than Purdue, who is Indiana’s biggest rival?
Maybe Kentucky this past year, but it kind of changes with how good the teams are. A lot of the rivalries are because they’re two of the best teams. IU-Purdue, you can definitely feel the tension. I’d go with all the teams in the Big Ten because they all seemed to play us tough.
What’s been your primary focus during this offseason?
Strength has definitely been a big part of my summer workouts because you can put on a lot of weight. I’ve been doing a lot of squats and lower body stuff. You can put a lot of weight into your legs and it won’t affect your speed or anything else. Actually my vertical and some of that stuff has gone up, even though I have put on weight. It’s been a big part of my offseason workouts. You can put on weight and it will help all parts of my game, whether it is holding post position, rebounding, banging with the big guys in the Big Ten.
Did you come back to win a national championship?
We’re going to have high goals this year. We’ll see what happens.
Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
19. Notre Dame
15. San Diego State
14. North Carolina
11. NC State
10. Michigan State
8. Ohio State