Cody Zeller certainly will being leaving quite a legacy in his wake. As the first recruit to really signify the turnaround of Indiana's program, Zeller is always going to have a special place among the hearts of this generations Hoosiers. I bet a lot of us can remember the day that he made his decision.
It was November 11, 2011 (didn't have to look that up), I personally was sitting in a 250 student psychology class. It was actually quite funny, as the professor walked up and down the aisles giving her lecture she noticed that roughly half the class were watching the same video on their laptops. Dr. Thomassen, being the good sport that she is, stopped the lecture to ask "what in the world is going on?". A voice from the back of the room yelled, "Cody Zeller's picking his school. I swear we'll be done in a minute!" Dr. Thomassen rolled her eyes and continued the lecture. Just a few minutes later the room exploded in hushed whispers and a bevy of high fives from strangers. At that moment in IU history, everything seemed like it was going to be OK again. There was certainty. Something we hadn't seen in years.
Zeller was an unassuming star for the Hoosiers and often times other players took the limelight on a daily basis from him. He was the quietest player, in my memory, to ever average 16 points over his entire career. He would light teams up for 20+ points on a night and everyone would be talking about the player that had a big 12 points. Zeller just had that constant presence that some never appreciated. That will be the hardest part to replace, is the ability he had to make everyone better. Heck his most memorable career moment for me is a pick he set at half-court in the waning seconds of a game against Kentucky in December. And I mean that as a compliment. I'd take 5 Cody Zellers any day of anyone else you can offer me in college basketball.
As he moves on from Indiana he's looking to impress NBA scouts to find his way into the top 10 and maybe top 5 of the NBA draft. He showed quite an impressive set of measurements at the NBA combine and has only improved his draft stock since declaring for the draft. He set the highest vertical leap for a player over 6'9" ever in the draft and recently shot 72% from three in some shooting drills for a team. The guy has all the tools to be a great pro and many teams know it. The only issue is there's not a lot out there that you can compare him to.
Zeller's biggest knock is playing small despite being 7ft tall. A lot of his issues are fixable and he could actually thrive better at the pro level than college. Zeller has always been more of a face up player than back to the basket. If he can wind up with a team that has a true post and allows Zeller to play the 4 he could flourish. We didn't see a lot of it in college but Zeller can shoot. Getting into a position where he can showcase those skills doubles his potential for being a big time player.
Teams looking to draft Zeller have to ignore all the talk of him being too weak or playing too small. Will he ever compete with Dwight Howard on the baseline? Not consistently. But, he can be your Pau Gasol work 5-8 feet from the basket while contributing a couple nice post moves on a nightly basis. Zeller has the ability to compete at the next level and I think a lot of the knocks on his toughness are taken from a small sample size of one game against a physical Syracuse team.
What fans should be excited about after drafting Cody Zeller is the consistency he'll bring. He's never going to be the face of your franchise. You aren't going to be going to him to get you that crucial basket in Game 7. But you can bet your last dollar that he's going to score 18 points, grab 8 boards and dish out 3-4 assists. He's your constant, your rock. There will be days where he will put up 25+ points, but don't lean on him for it. Zeller is the catalyst. He's the player you drop in a lineup and suddenly everyone becomes more explosive. Cody Zeller is the definition of a guy that makes everyone around him better.
So that is what Cody Zeller means to Indiana and what he's expected to be at the next level. Whatever team he goes to they're going to love him. Certainly they'll have days where they just demand more despite a very good but not great performance, but he's still going to get his. He'll also provide some fantastic press conference sound bites. The Hoosiers will badly miss his contributions, but all of Indiana will get a joy of watching one of our native sons in the NBA for years to come.