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Posted on Thu. Aug. 21, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Ex-Hoosier Zeller embraces NBA learning

IU tour brings back Cream 'n Crimson greats

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INDIANAPOLIS – Of course they wanted pictures. Who wouldn't? Cody Zeller was here, bigger than life, part of a Who's Who of Indiana legends signing autographs and more as part of IU's On the Road tour stop at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The line was long and Zeller and such other former Hoosier greats as Victor Oladipo, Anthony Thompson, Bobby Leonard and George Taliafero were accommodating even as Wednesday night's starting time was delayed 10, then 20 minutes, then more so no one was turned away.

Yes, Zeller appreciated the response. Just because he's a NBA multi-millionaire set to begin his second season with the Charlotte Hornets doesn't mean he's lost his Hoosier heart.

“It's always fun to be around the Indiana fans. It's fun to hang around with Vic.”

The 7-foot Zeller was an All-America for the Hoosiers, then became the No. 4 overall NBA pick in the summer of 2013. It's been a whirlwind time given he could easily be starting his senior season at IU if he hadn't passed on his final two years to turn pro.

No, he doesn't have any regrets.

“I feel like an adult, paying taxes, paying rent, living in an apartment instead of living with 40,000 kids my age, playing against the best players in the world every night. It's a big change for me.

“It was a fun year. It will be a good year for us coming up.”

Fun for Zeller meant making the NBA all-rookie second team after averaging 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from the field. His season-long development was reflected in the fact he averaged 22.2 minutes in eight April games, well above his season average of 17.3 minutes.

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said during the season that Zeller had to improve his strength, in particular his lower body strength, to handle the inside power of NBA forwards.

Zeller did, which is why his playing time increased as the season went on. Adding to the achievement, it happened with a playoff team. Charlotte went 43-39 before being swept in the opening round by Miami.

“I felt very fortunate. We have a great coaching staff. I learned a lot. I hope to learn a lot this coming year.

“Making the playoffs as a rookie was a big opportunity for me. I got a taste for it. Hopefully there is more to come.”

That hope got a boost with the free agent signing of Lance Stephenson, the former Indiana Pacer known for his talent and volatility.

“Everyone around here in Indy is upset about it,” Zeller said, “but I'm excited about it. I think he will be to help our team a lot. He's another scoring threat. He's good. He's good when he's on.”

Zeller spent time working out at IU with former teammate Victor Oladipo and Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade, plus Heat players Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Norris Cole and Josh McRoberts, all under the energetic guidance of Hoosier coach Tom Crean.

“I worked out for a couple days in Bloomington, but I've kind of been a little bit of everywhere. I was in Charlotte. I was in L.A. for a week. I was in Indiana for a while. Now I'm going back to Charlotte.”

Zeller's off-season workouts have one constant theme -- consistency.

“I have to be more consistent, especially with my jumper. I need more isolation moves out of the elbow or out of the post. Just more ways to score.”

Zeller will return to Bloomington early next month for his family's DistinXion camp at Assembly Hall.

“My family has been running it throughout the summer,” he said. “It's a good opportunity for me to be back in Bloomington teaching kids. I feel fortunate because I had a lot of people helping me to get to the point where I'm at. I'm trying to give back to the kids.”

Zeller was well aware of last season's IU basketball struggles, when the Hoosiers stumbled to a 17-15 finish and failed to make the NCAA or NIT. He expects a major turnaround this season.

“I think they'll be good. They have a lot of guards. They have a lot of skill and depth at that position with Yogi. I was impressed with (freshman guard) Robert Johnson and all those freshmen. Hanner (Perea) is back. Troy Williams will be good. They have some pieces there if they can put it all together.”

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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