BLOOMINGTON – Know this about Cody Zeller: Accolades roll in, calm flows out.
Today he is an Associated Press preseason All-American, Indiana's first since Calbert Cheaney in 1991.
Before that Zeller was the Big Ten preseason player of the year. Before that he was picked by many publications, such as The Sporting News, as the preseason national player of the year. Before that, he was All-America as a freshman. Before that, well, it doesn't matter. The 6-11 sophomore forward never wavers from his level-headed approach.
Zeller says he doesn't worry about honors. He talks about improving and winning.
Some guys say that with the honesty of a con man.
Zeller lives it.
“Cody epitomizes so many things about the program,” IU coach Tom Crean says, “and No. 1 is the humble spirit he has. He's confident, but he has a humbleness and a desire to improve. 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.”
Anticipation of those things has helped boost IU to preseason No. 1. It's also had many experts projecting Zeller as the NBA's No. 1 pick next June if he comes out early.
“I try not to worry about it too much,” he says. “I'm just enjoying this year. At the end of the year I'll make a decision one way or the other. I'm not worried about it at all right now.”
Last year Zeller led Indiana in scoring (15.6), rebounding (6.5) and shooting (62.3 percent). He ran the floor as well as any big man in the country.
After not taking a single three-point shot last year, he figures to take plenty this season.
Crean has said Zeller and Will Sheehey are IU's most improved players. He's praised Zeller's fundamentals, work ethic and desire. All the preseason attention might rattle some young players. Crean says Zeller is better than that.
“I don't think Cody is somebody who has responded to pressure. That's what makes him as mentally tough as he is at his age. That's never wavered.
“He's not easily rattled. His confidence is high, but I don't see anything from Cody that would make you think he thinks he's arrived or achieved greatness. He's not like that.
“His mental toughness is phenomenal. His character is phenomenal. He's a great teammate, and has a great work ethic. If that improvement continues the way it has, he will have an outstanding season.”
Zeller received 64 of 65 preseason All-America votes from a national media panel. He was joined by another former Indiana Mr. Basketball, former Bishop Luers standout Deshaun Thomas of Ohio State. Thomas, who had 26 votes, averaged 15.9 points last year while shooting 52.0 percent from the field.
Repeating as a first-team All-America choice was Creighton forward Doug McDermott, who had 62 votes after a season in which he averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds.
Also on the team were Murray State's Isaiah Canaan, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum and Michigan's Trey Burke.