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August 8, 2011

Luke, Tyler break down Cody's game, ability

The Zellers have always offered honest evaluations of one another.

When Luke Zeller, the family's first Indiana Mr. Basketball, was going through a rough stretch at Notre Dame, his brothers would offer encouragement by telling him he looked good - in the pregame warm-up line.

Knowing their openness, Peegs.com turned to the two older Zellers for an assessment of Cody Zeller, heading into his freshman year at Indiana this fall. The most heralded recruit of the Tom Crean era and reigning Indiana Mr. Basketball steps into Assembly Hall at a time the Hoosiers are coming off three consecutive losing seasons, expected to be a focal point of the resurrection of IU basketball.

Is he ready ?

Can he handle the hype and expectations?

How good will he really be as a freshman?

His two older brothers and fellow Indiana Mr. Basketball winners, Luke and Tyler Zeller, offer an inside look of how he is as a freshman compared to them and what kind of player they expect to see immediately.

"Cody is definitely much more athletic compared to us," said Tyler Zeller, who passed on the NBA draft for his senior year at North Carolina, one of the favorites for this year's national title. "Around the rim, he's very athletic. He can finish. He's a little bit stronger than Luke and I were entering college.

"Cody is a good combination of Luke and I. He can play inside and outside whereas Luke was outside and I was inside. To play at the college level, he has to get stronger, but that's the story for most people heading into college."

After one of the most watched recruitments in recent IU history, Cody Zeller now goes from being praised for picking Indiana to being expected to produce for Indiana. The 6-foot-11 forward will start from his first game.

"Definitely he's going to be able to contribute right away," Tyler Zeller said. "For one, IU is a great opportunity for him to contribute. They don't have a lot of big men, so he'll be able to get his shots, but skill wise, he's ready to play at that level. He'll struggle some just because it's a higher speed, higher physicality, but I think he'll contribute right away."

With three years between each of the boys, Cody was always around older players, sometimes much older.

Luke Zeller, who played at Notre Dame after winning Indidna Mr. Basketball in 2005 after a half-court shot at the buzzer to win a state championship, noticed development early. When Luke was a high school freshman, Cody, then in third grade, would come to open gym, not to watch. He wanted to play.

"When I got older, I picked Cody as my point guard because he figured out how to get it done, whether that was how to finish around guys four or five years older or stronger or quicker or make that pass, he figured out how to get it done," Luke said.

"I think he's continued that and that's helped his basketball IQ and his love for the game to push him further than just being talented and now he's developed his talent and a combination of all that will give him a chance to learn quickly.

"He is going to be a freshman, but being a freshman, Tyler and I have both gone through it. It's a big change from high school, but I think he will be able to adapt because of the way he learns and his commitment to working hard. July Fourth, he could have hung out all weekend, but we went into the gym to work on things, being able to stride out further, working on his jump shot. He runs the floor well. Tyler gets a rep for running the floor well, but Cody runs the floor really well. If he has someone to run with him and can feed him, he can get it up on the rim and finish.

"His rebounding is exceptional because he knows where to be. Some of the guys in the Big Ten will feel like they have a younger brother around. 'Dang, he got another rebound?'"

A McDonald's All-American as well, Cody Zeller was ranked 15th in the 2011 Class by Rivals.com. He averaged 24.6 pints, 13 rebounds and three assists as a senior, leading Washington High School to the third state title of his four years in high school.

Statistics, though, are only a partial description of Cody Zeller's game.

"He does a lot of things that don't show up - passing the ball, being patient in the post. It's the details that make him good," Luke Zeller said. "It's not the things that show up big in a certain category or a scouting report. The more he develops and picks up the speed of the game, the more that will come through."

Being the youngest of Steve and Lorri Zeller's three boys was always a benefit. Luke and Tyler would go through something first. Cody would watch, and ask questions.

"I think that helped him a lot, for one, the recruiting process was easier," said Tyler Zeller, the 2008 Indiana Mr. Basketball. "And two, we play against him all the time. If he has questions, we can help him, explain things to him. He has a general idea of what he's going into with college. He's see us go through it. The problems we've had, the things you have to get used to. I think he's just more prepared and he's ready to handle it."

Since Tyler Zeller gets back usually just one a year, he has good gauge for Cody's development. This summer, well, it was different.

"The year before he was all right but wasn't that great," Tyler said. "Then coming back this year, I was still able to beat him - I want to say that - but he was able to compete at a much higher level."

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