|Zeller: 'Everyone says college is the best years of your life. I'm just gonna enjoy it while it lasts.' (US Presswire)|
Cody Zeller could be in Charlotte now. Or Cleveland. Or Portland. Or some other NBA city residing in a downtown loft and playing the role of a multimillionaire lottery pick just beginning his professional basketball career. Instead, he's back in Bloomington taking an accounting class, living with his older brother and sister-in-law.
Yep, Indiana's star is a third wheel at the house.
"My oldest brother [former Notre Dame standout Luke Zeller] is just six years older than me, so [he and his wife] are only shortly removed from the college life," Zeller told me by phone this week. "So it's not too bad. They still hang out sometimes and stuff."
David Stern walked on a stage in New Jersey last Thursday and announced that Kentucky's Anthony Davis would be the top overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. In less than a year, the commissioner of our nation's most star-driven league will do the same thing but announce a different name, and there's a realistic possibility -- as my colleague Jeff Goodman suggested recently -- that Luke Zeller's younger brother/roommate will earn the honor.
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"It's kinda neat to think about, but that's a long ways away," Zeller said. "A lot of things are going to change between now and next year's draft, if I decide to come out then. And I know I have lots of things to work on. So I'm just looking forward to this year. We should have a good team."
They should indeed.
Which is why Zeller has a chance to do exactly what Davis just did -- i.e., be a National Player of the Year who wins a national championship and subsequently becomes the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Never mind that there was a 24-year gap between the time Kansas' Danny Manning achieved those three things and when Davis repeated the act. Zeller is good enough -- and he'll play on a good enough team, one that could be ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll -- to do in 2013 what Davis did in 2012. Zeller didn't shy away from the challenge when I presented it to him because, he acknowledged, the opportunity to accomplish such things is among the reasons he returned for his sophomore season.
Also: He just likes being a kid.
"It's always tough to turn down the money and everything else, but I'm enjoying college," said Zeller, who averaged 16 points and six rebounds as a freshman while leading the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16. "At the end of the day I just wasn't ready to grow up."
There are some who might label this way of thinking as risky given that a top-five pick -- and that's what Zeller would've been in the 2012 NBA Draft, in my opinion -- is guaranteed to receive a two-year contract worth around $6 million, especially since Kentucky's Terrence Jones, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Baylor's Perry Jones III each almost certainly cost himself money by returning for his sophomore season last season.
But the truth is that the only thing that would stop Zeller from being a top-five pick next year is an injury because he doesn't have a focus problem (like Terrence Jones), a height problem (like Sullinger) or a motor problem (like Perry Jones).
Zeller is tall (6-foot-11), strong (245 pounds), fundamentally sound and only getting better, according to everybody who knows or works with him. That's why I have no issue with Zeller returning to Indiana even though I'm on record stating that projected lottery picks are typically foolish to skip the draft because the reward rarely outweighs the risk involved.
The risk is minimal with Zeller.
He's in a good position to have it all.
He can win big in his home state and solidify his legacy as an IU great.
He can then enter the NBA Draft, be the top pick and vacate that room in his brother's home.
"Everyone says that college is the best years of your life," Zeller said. "I'm just gonna enjoy it while it lasts."