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Indiana University

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Associated Press
Indiana’s Cody Zeller continues to work on his skills despite the honors and attention he has been receiving as the leader of the preseason No. 1 Hoosiers.

‘Humble’ Zeller still improving

Continues to work hard to help Hoosiers

– When you’re considered the top basketball player in the country, you tend to get some attention.

And not just from opposing coaches drawing up game plans in hopes of slowing you down.

Cody Zeller has appeared on the cover of more publications in recent weeks than the stars of the “Twilight” movies. ESPN the Magazine even posted a behind-the-scenes look at a photo shoot along with an interview on ESPN.com.

The 7-foot sophomore forward is taking it all in stride.

“It’s kind of neat, it’s kind of a neat experience,” Zeller said with a laugh . “I just have to enjoy the moment but not get too big-headed. I’m definitely still improving, definitely still working hard.”

The Hoosiers are loaded with talent, experience and depth. That’s why they are ranked No. 1 in the country.

And Zeller – a preseason All-American and the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year – is the centerpiece.

“Cody Zeller epitomizes so many things about the program, and No. 1 is the humble spirit he has,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “He’s confident but he has a humbleness, and he has a desire to improve.

“When your best players lead the way with improvement in your team then you have an opportunity to keep getting better. There is no room for taking a seat in the back or for taking a day off for anybody else in the program when your best players work that way. He continues to improve. He’s got a lot of things that he can get better at, he knows it, we know it and if those improvements continue we can do a lot of things with him.”

Zeller led the Hoosiers in scoring (15.6 points per game), rebounding (6.6 per game) and blocks (42). He was tied for first in steals (49).

Zeller also led the Hoosiers and was fourth nationally in field goal percentage (62.3 percent).

Zeller earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the conference coaches last year. He was named to the second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media last season.

His contributions helped the Hoosiers to a 27-9 record and a trip to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002.

“Without him, everybody knows and everybody’s not afraid to say it, without him, we wouldn’t have won last year,” Indiana junior guard Victor Oladipo said. “He’s the best big man in the country.

“He’s a humble guy. He’s a rare species. People like him don’t come around every day. He’s gotten a lot stronger, too.”

Zeller said there were many factors that led him to Indiana, the coaches, the players, the education and the tradition to name a few. North Carolina and Butler were other teams in the running. Zeller has had a strong support system, which includes his brothers Luke (who played at Notre Dame) and Tyler (who played at North Carolina).

“They were very helpful with my recruiting process and once I got in college, they are there for me whenever I need them as far as I can call either one of them if I have any problem,” Zeller said. “It’s a good chance they’ve been through the same situation.”

He’s now focused on helping the Hoosiers take that next step. Zeller said he gained between 10 to 15 pounds. He is listed at 230 pounds. Zeller said he gained 9 1/2 pounds of muscle and lost two pounds of fat. Zeller also worked on expanding his range.

“There are a lot of little things you can work on in the summer: playing more on the perimeter, shooting outside more, making it tougher for teams to guard me,” Zeller said. “I think that will help me and the guys playing around me.”

Expectations are high for Zeller and IU. He was on 64 of the 65 ballots for The Associated Press All-American team and was a unanimous pick for the All-Big Ten preseason team.

“It is a great honor, but I try not to worry about it too much,” he said. “Never get comfortable with where you are at. There’s always someone out there that’s better than you, that’s worked just as hard or harder than you. I try not to worry about (the awards) too much. I just keep on trying to improve.”

lpope@jg.net

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