Entering the 2012-13 season, Indiana forward Cody Zeller was the talk of college basketball. The sophomore standout graced the preseason editions of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated, was talked about as a consensus top 3 draft pick and looked to be primed for a Wooden Award-winning campaign.
For all the hype and media attention, Zeller managed to have a very good statistical season — 16.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game — but as the Hoosiers’ title hopes fell (lost in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse) in March, so too did his draft stock.
The Washington, Indiana native made the First Team All-Big Ten, but concerns about his body frame, physical toughness and outside shooting touch have altered the label from can’t-miss product to NBA-sized question mark.
Hoping to address those concerns, Zeller participated in Wednesday’s group session in front of Suns’ coaches, scouts and team executives along with former Indiana teammate Victor Oladipo, UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad, center Rudy Gobert (France), Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren and Oregon forward E.J. Singler.
Despite being knocked for his shooting range — he attempted only 24 jumpers
during the 2012-13 season — while at Indiana, Zeller made at least one fan following his first group workout: new Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek.
“I think I was surprised by how well he shot the ball from the outside,” Hornacek said. “Most guys they grow up, and they’re shooting outside anyways. Even a guy like him, I anticipated the 15 to 18-foot range, and that he’d be pretty decent — which he was.
“But, as he moved farther out, his shot didn’t change. It was the same stroke. It didn’t look like he was forcing to get it up there. There’s a lot of big guys that don’t shoot that shot a lot, so it looks like a real strain. He didn’t, he shot it normally.”
Asked about his shooting performance Wednesday, Zeller said he wasn’t surprised in the least.
“I’ve been able to shoot,” said Zeller, who had one previous individual workout with the Utah Jazz. “I shot a lot in high school, AAU, stuff like that. It’s nothing too major, just showing them I have that ability.”
Zeller will try to become the second brother from his family to be drafted in the first round in as many years (Tyler Zeller taken No. 17 overall by Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012), but the former Indiana Mr. Basketball’s trip to the Valley brought to mind his other sibling, Luke, Wednesday.
Luke Zeller played 16 games with the Suns in 2012-13, averaging 1.2 points and 0.6 rebounds per game. However due to the organization’s recent regime change, Cody noted that his older brother wasn’t able to impart much advice on what to expect.
“It’s a different organization,” said Zeller. “A lot different group than when Luke was here. Luke loved it here, he enjoyed his time here, the people were great. He enjoyed every bit of it.”