6-11, 210, PF
Washington (Ind.) HS
Class of 2011
There was no chance Cody Zeller would emerge anonymously. The younger brother of Luke and Tyler, who would matriculate to Notre Dame and North Carolina, respectively, Cody was observed closely at a very early age. He began more slowly than his brothers, earning his share of both admirers and detractors as recently as the spring of 2010.
Zeller finally burst through and established a big-time identity of his own in early July, showcasing polished offensive ability and generating buzz as a potential McDonald's All-American.
North Carolina's interest in Zeller followed the general trajectory of his national reputation. He placed himself squarely on the UNC radar as a junior, but it wasn't until July that he drew a scholarship offer from the Tar Heels. Like most national scouts, Roy Williams adopted more of a wait and see approach with Zeller, striking a contrast to the earlier offers extended to UNC commitments James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston.
Zeller may possess the most skilled post moves of any player in the Class of 2011. He isn't a power broker and doesn't have elite athleticism, but his footwork is exemplary for a player his age. He receives the ball cleanly thanks to sure hands, and he can turn toward either shoulder with balance in order to get a clean look against a beaten defender. His jump hook with either hand is college-ready, and he seemingly never appears to be in a rush.
He also utilizes deception as a key component of his arsenal. He positions himself to loft a short hook and uses his shoulders to sell the move, then reverses on his pivot foot for an uncontested layup. Additionally, he'll occasionally quick-shoot, opting not to set up a move at all and simply shooting before the defense is able to react.
And Zeller is far more than a back-to-the-basket performer. He comfortably spots up on the perimeter and consistently drills jump shots from 15-21 feet. Though his release point is slightly low, his shot is smooth and frequently on the mark. His free throw stroke also is a weapon, as he knocks in a far higher percentage than many of his frontcourt peers.
But where Zeller truly shines in any one area beyond his brothers is his ability to put the ball on the floor. He's able to face up anywhere from 10-15 feet and take two or three hard dribbles toward the rim. His agility on those drives is outstanding, as he's able to maneuver around a defender and evade the oncoming help. He takes his two steps with complete control, even bending backward while bearing his weight on his front leg similar to what Tyler Hansbrough did on occasion during his time in Chapel Hill.
In terms of intangibles, Cody is definitely the scrappiest of the three brothers. He doesn't classify as a banger in the truest sense of the term but does dive into the mix on the offensive glass and hustles for rebounds outside his immediate area. He also plays unselfishly and understands how to compete within the team concept, evidenced by his success on a strong Indiana Elite squad. His court demeanor is quiet but focused, and he doesn't get rattled by pressure situations in tight contests.
Lacking physical strength is the most obvious deficiency in Zeller's game. He has made strides over the past year — gaining more than 10 pounds of muscle — but still can be overpowered by burlier insiders. His lack of bulk compromises his ability to establish deep position offensively or fend off opponents on the defensive end of the court.
Zeller's straight-up leaping ability also is just average. Though a decent leaper with a running start, inside he gets more shots blocked than one would prefer for a player his height. For the same reason he isn't much of a shotblocker, so overall his best talents reside on offense and at times he faces challenging individual matchups.
It's difficult to criticize much in the way of skill development, because as mentioned Zeller ranks near the top of the class in terms of polish. Still, there's always room to improve off-hand scoring and perhaps he also can raise the release point of his jump shot.
It's frankly impossible to mention Cody in a UNC context without comparing him to Tyler. That's understandable, but in truth, I think Cody's projected college position would more accurately be compared with Jawad Williams. They are not an exact match in terms of skill and style - as Williams was the better leaper and outside shooter, while Zeller scores better around the rim and is the superior rebounder - but that comparison is helpful in understanding how Zeller would fit in the Roy Williams system at UNC.
Wherever he chooses to attend school, it's likely he'll grow into a key offensive weapon. While not everyone ranked in the No. 10-20 range projects as a priority scorer — and arguably, even top-10 UNC pledge James McAdoo does not — Zeller projects as a legitimate No. 2 scoring option for a top program. His thin frame and athleticism may not enable him to become the main man for an elite team, but an upperclassman scoring average exceeding 16 points per game would not be surprising.
More concretely, I think it's safe to project that Zeller would pose a strong challenge to start at Carolina as a sophomore. That timeline could be accelerated, too, depending on potential NBA decisions made by his older brother and John Henson, among others.
Most impressively to me, he managed to break through the shadow cast by his older brothers. Because Luke disappointed at Notre Dame and Tyler has struggled with injuries at UNC, Cody didn't necessarily get the benefit of the doubt upon his emergence on the national scene and as recently as this past spring.
That he was able to dispel those biases and establish his own identity affirms, more strongly than any words here, that he's a big-time prospect.
Rob Harrington provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. He's the editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly, writes a freelance column for USAToday.com and is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player.