Zeller eyes back-to-back state titles

It's hard to impress as a little brother in the Zeller family. Whether it's winning state titles, becoming a McDonald's All-American, or picking up a Mr. Basketball award, it's all old news to your older siblings. Winning state titles is practically a family rite of passage. But with one title already under his belt, Cody finds himself with a chance to really one-up his brothers now.

It's hard to impress as a little brother in the Zeller family. Whether it's winning state titles, becoming a McDonald's All-American, or picking up a Mr. Basketball award, it's all old news to your older siblings. They've done it all and winning state titles is practically a family rite of passage. Luke did it in 2005. Tyler did it in 2008. And Cody Zeller became the first to breakthrough as a junior, winning the state championship last season. Now he finds himself with a chance to really one-up his brothers in the next two weeks.

After knocking down 20 of his 22 free throw attempts to help beat a physical Corydon Central team in the regional championship last weekend, Zeller finds himself just two wins away from another state title. The back-to-back championships would give Washington High School their seventh state title and would add to the impressive Zeller lore.

"(Winning another title) has been our goal since day one, basically when we won the state tournament last year," said Zeller. "We are only two games away so we are definitely going to work hard this week."

It's been another impressive season for the 6-foot-11 big man at the heart of Washington's success. After averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds last year, he is currently averaging 24.1 points, 13.1 rebounds, and two blocks as a senior and is coming off a career-high 38 points against Corydon last week. Now his Hatchets (22-4) head to the Seymour semi-state for a battle with Batesville (18-6) Saturday night for the right to advance to the 3A state title game against the winner of Columbia City (19-5) and Culver Academies (18-6). Zeller isn't looking that far ahead though.

"We are definitely confident, but I wouldn't say anymore confident than any other year," Zeller said. "We still got to go out and play. We are not going to win it on paper or anything. It's just about taking it one game at a time. Batesville is obviously a very good team because they are in the semi-state. I heard they have some good shooters. It's not going to be easy I know that."

What Zeller will face against Batesville is anyone's guess at this point. Teams have taken a variety of different defensive approaches to try and slow him down as he has seen everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him this season.

"The whole sectional I played against a box-and-one," said Zeller. "I think Bosse played some man-to-man defense and then immediately doubled when I caught it and Corydon Central did that as well. Everybody has their gimmick defenses that they have tried so we have seen a lot of different stuff throughout the season and that's really helped us in the tournament. I'm not surprised by anything."

The key for Zeller, regardless of the defense, is taking what the other team gives him.
"In sectional play teams were really focused on taking me away and not letting me get my points and I was fine with that because my teammates did a nice job of stepping up and scoring," Zeller said. "In the regionals this weekend I got my points. It's just basically been whoever the defense takes away the other person steps up. I think we are playing well as a team and that makes a tough team to beat when we are playing together like that."

Most consider Washington the team to beat in the remaining 3A title field. Another title would go a long way in securing another Mr. Basketball title for the family, making them the first trio of brothers to ever accomplish the feat in the state. Hoosier fans are just happy that he will be the first Zeller to play his college basketball in Bloomington. The program's recent struggles are well-chronicled, but Zeller was quick to point out that there have been positives in IU's recent play as well.

"They've improved this year from last year," Zeller said. "It was encouraging that they were competing so hard even though they were losing some close games. They lost quite a few in a row there, but there fight and determination didn't go down any, which is encouraging. I think we can build on that."

With IU's lack of frontcourt depth and proven options in the paint, it's likely Zeller will be thrown into the fray right away. He's excited to have a chance at an immediate impact, but isn't foolhardy about the challenge the physical Big Ten conference will present.

"It's a completely different game than high school and I think the physical aspect will be the toughest part," said Zeller. "The biggest thing I'm focusing on is definitely getting stronger in the weight room and just playing stronger. That will really help everything as far as my rebounding, posting-up, passing, in all aspects really."

While it might be too optimistic to expect the 215-pound Zeller to immediately begin throwing up double-doubles next season, there's no doubt that he will bring several enticing new options to the IU offense. With his shooting ability Indiana might find their pick-and-roll game becoming much more effective with Zeller in the fold.

"At the high school level I haven't done a whole lot of picking and popping because you don't see to many seven-footers in there, but in college I know I will do more of that," said Zeller. "That's fine with me because I can shoot it better than a lot of big men. I just try to take wherever the defense gives me. I'll leave it up to Coach Crean and how he wants to use me."

For now Zeller is listening only to current head coach Gene Miller. The long-time Hatchet coach has led all three Zellers to state titles over the last decade and now, like his star big man, is setting his sights on consecutive championships. They'll certainly have a good chance with their McDonald's All-American in the middle.

"We feel really good right now," said Zeller. "Traditionally getting out of the regional has been our toughest day and we played really well there so hopefully that's a good sign."

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