Zeller brothers' excellence evident again in Indiana's freshman star

Indiana's Cody faces Cats this weekend

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 9, 2011 

A fan brought his parrot to one of Indiana's football games this season. That sounds like the beginning of a joke, and in a way it is.

IU freshman basketball standout Cody Zeller posed for a picture with the parrot and posted it on his Facebook page. He then provided the caption punch line.

"I'm meeting so many new friends in college," he wrote. "My mom was worried I was going to be a loner."

LOL.

For IU's basketball opponents, there's nothing funny about Zeller. Heading into Saturday's game against visiting Kentucky, he leads the Hoosiers in scoring (15.5 ppg), rebounding (7.5 rpg), blocks (13), steals (21) and free throws (36 of 48).

Of course, Kentucky faces a Zeller for a second straight game. Older brother Tyler is a mainstay for North Carolina.

The Zellers, including oldest brother Luke, share several common attributes. Each is in the vicinity of 7 feet tall. Each was Indiana Mr. Basketball (Luke in 2005, Tyler in 2008 and Cody in 2011). Each was a McDonald's All-American. Each led Washington (Ind.) High to at least one Indiana state championship. Each finished first, second or third in his high school class academically.

"As a coach, they're everything you'd want a player to be," said Gene Miller, who coached Tyler and Cody at Washington High.

But there are differences.

Luke, who played for Notre Dame and is participating in a San Antonio Spurs tryout this weekend, is the extrovert. "He could probably be mayor of town," mother Lorri Zeller said.

Tyler is the most self-motivated and, to borrow his mother's word, "driven."

Cody is the "prankster," Miller said. The laid-back wit with the knack for entertaining tweets, his mother said.

For example, when Indiana won at North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge earlier this season, Cody tweeted, "I'm glad all the IU fans are excited, but I thought that was the point. We are supposed to win every game."

Cody did not wait long to flash his sense of humor. Shortly after arriving on campus, he saluted IU's groundskeepers. "They trimmed all the trees," he wrote, "so I no longer have to duck under branches. I was going to put up a sign for all the other 7-footers, so they wouldn't hit their heads."

When he came home for Thanksgiving, Cody got on his mother's Facebook page and wrote, "My favorite son is home, now."

Certainly, Cody is a favorite of Indiana fans. They've dubbed this freshman class as "the Movement," the means for fourth-year coach Tom Crean to finally kick-start the Hoosiers' basketball revival.

Cody, a top-20 prospect, quickly emerged as a key component. As ESPN the Magazine noted, Crean stopped a pre-season practice to announce a new rule: If Cody did not touch the ball on a possession, his team's basket would not count.

Miller noted that Tyler and Cody contribute offensively to their college teams as back-to-the-basket scorers. But, if needed, each can shoot well from the perimeter.

When asked how he used the Zellers on the high school level, Miller chuckled and said, "Pretty much anywhere they wanted to go."

As a senior, Tyler averaged 33.1 points and led Washington High to the 2008 state championship.

Cody averaged 24.6 points and 13 rebounds as Washington High won the 2011 state championship.

When it comes to state championships, Luke has the most memorable moment. His game-winning shot from half-court as time expired in overtime gave Washington High the 2005 title. That began a Zeller-led dynasty for a school that hadn't won a sectional tournament in more than 20 years.

Basketball success is nothing new for the family. The Zeller brothers' grandfather, Marvin Eberhard, was on the team from Hampton, Neb., that won that state's 1942 state championship.

Eberhard got married and raised a family on a farm near Springville, Iowa.

His son, Al Eberhard, scored 1,347 points and grabbed 806 rebounds for Missouri in the early 1970s. A 6-foot-6 wing, Al then played four seasons for the Detroit Pistons.

"Always been in the family," Al said of basketball achievement.

Lorri, who is 6 feet tall, played basketball and softball for Coe College, an NAIA school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Father Steve, who is 6-4, played three sports in high school.

Luke, who averaged double-digit minutes in each of his four seasons for Notre Dame, set a high standard that his younger brothers tried to match. Besides the basketball, he achieved a 4.0 grade-point average and was his Washington High class valedictorian. He showed Tyler what to do — and not do — as high school students. He made them wise to the recruiting process.

"He made our job as parents a lot easier," Lorri said. "(Tyler and Cody) just followed suit."

After an A-minus in a freshman class, Tyler set a goal of high academic achievement, but not so high as to give a graduation speech as valedictorian or salutatorian. His 3.97 GPA ranked third in his class.

Cody set the same goal. But when two students tied for valedictorian, his 3.97 qualified for salutatorian. When asked if Cody had to give a speech, Lorri said, "He did. He was so mad."

In driving to North Carolina and Indiana games this season, Lorri and Steve are on television about as much as forensic crime shows. They sat in the first row behind the UNC bench in Rupp Arena last weekend. They plan to attend the UK-IU game Saturday and get updates on the Tar Heels' game against Long Beach State later that evening.

"Like Steve says, it's a good problem to have," Lorri said. "Our boys are taking us on a wild ride, and we're loving it."

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