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November 12, 2010

Washington's Zeller headed to IU

WASHINGTON — Center court at the Hatchet House has always been a basketball hot spot in Southern Indiana. However on Thursday, it might have been the hottest spot in the world — at least as far as blue-chip basketball recruiting goes.

Under the glare of a multitude of media outlets, numbering more than 75, Washington big man Cody Zeller announced that he won’t have far to travel next season — as his next stop will be Indiana University.

With one word — “IU” — Zeller changed the landscape of Big Ten recruiting and hopefully the fortunes of the Hoosiers. IU was a basketball team that went 10-21 last year, but is loaded with young talent that should be in place when Zeller makes his debut in Bloomington next fall.

The 6-foot-11, 215-pound big man had narrowed his choices in early August to the North Carolina Tar Heels, Hoosiers and Butler before making it official Thursday.

And although there was much speculation that Zeller might join his older brother Tyler at North Carolina or the effect that being national championship runners-up at Butler might have had on the choice, ultimately Zeller said it was IU coach Tom Crean and the Hoosier players that made the difference.

“The players and coaches were the biggest thing. I think I can get along with the players pretty well. Coach Crean seems to be rebuilding, the business school is ranked really high and Cook Hall (the new practice facility) is amazing. It was a good combination,” said Zeller.

“I knew it was the right thing for me. It wasn’t just one thing, I just got the feeling that it was the best thing for me. I think I can be one of the people who will help rebuild it (the program). I’m not saying that I can turn it around 180 degrees (alone), but I can help.”

He added that he thought Crean had a lot of energy and was one of the best with “Xs and 0s.”

“He was really excited when I told him. In fact he really didn’t know what to say,” said Zeller.

He also said it meant a lot for him to play for IU.

“Growing up in the state, it means a lot for me to represent the state and I think we will have a good team,” Zeller said.

He added that it would be nice to play at a place where area fans could watch him.

“That wasn’t really a factor at first,” Zeller said. “But the more I thought about it, I realized it would be nice to see the Hatchet fans and people who have supported me since I was a kid.”

Zeller has been at the top on all recruiting services. He is ranked No. 15 overall by ESPN and No. 20 (fourth overall among power forwards) by Rivals.com. He also is a member of the nationally highly-regarded Indiana Elite AAU team.

Although the process has taken several years, Zeller said he enjoyed it.

“It was tough process but I enjoyed it,” said Zeller. “It is something you can only do once in a lifetime. I talked to my parents, my brothers and the few friends that I thought could give me good insight.

“I really didn’t tell anyone until a few minutes ago. Even my high school coach didn’t know until I walked in. I’m glad to get this out of the way so I can start to focus on winning another state championship.”

Before Cody made his announcement, his father Steve Zeller read a statement thanking the coaches and program from all three schools. The elder Zeller has been through the process three times now and feels this time was definitely the smoothest.

“It has gotten easier because we (as a family) are more relaxed,” said Steve Zeller. “Instead of letting the process control us, we have tried to control the process. We feel like we have learned from some of the mistakes from the other ones.”

Cody Zeller said he contacted North Carolina and Butler just before the announcement and both coaches wished him luck.

“I wished them the best of luck as well,” he said. “It is tough because they put all that time into me and I’m going to go to Indiana. I do appreciate all the time and effort they put into recruiting me.”

Last season as a junior, Zeller averaged 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds a game and set a state-final rebounding record with 26 in the win over Gary Wallace last March.

Zeller will lead the Hatchets toward their fourth state title in the last seven years, in what would be his third as an individual.

Hatchet coach Gene Miiller said he is very proud of Zeller.

“It is great opportunity for a young man who has worked very hard to put himself in the position to get a big-time scholarship offer and a chance to go to IU with its great tradition. He is a great kid and a very talented player,” said Miiller. “I got to meet and get to know three great coaches in Roy Williams, Brad Stevens and Tom Crean. They are all top-notch people as well as great coaches. This is the kind of recruiting process that every coach would want. It was all above board and there was a great atmosphere around it.”

Zeller has piled up the accolades over his first three seasons. He has been named Player of the Year by both the Washington Times-Herald and the Evansville Courier-Press. He was a member of the Indiana All-Stars Core team as a junior, along with representing Team USA in the addias Nation summer series the last two years.

Zeller’s work off the court has been just as impressive as on it. He maintains a 3.99 grade-point average and is currently ranked No. 2 in his graduating class of 188.

The big man logged 217 minutes as a freshman, averaging a little more than two points and two boards a game on the 2008 championship team. As a sophomore, Zeller averaged 15 points and 7.2 rebounds.

The Zeller family legacy continues to grow as Tyler (2008 Mr. Basketball), who won a national championship with UNC in the spring of 2009, is expected to be a big part of a resurgent Tar Heel team this winter.

Former 2005 Mr. Basketball Luke Zeller, a Notre Dame graduate, has continued his basketball career. He played last season in Japan and was going to play in Lithuania this season, but was recently drafted by the Bakersfield Jam of the NBDL, an affiliate of the Lakers.

If Cody Zeller were to win the coveted Indiana Mr. Basketball award, it would be the fourth for the Hatchets, which would tie them with Anderson and Marion as the only other schools with four players to win it, as well as the Zellers being the only siblings to win it three times.

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