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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Column: Zeller’s impact on IU goes beyond his departure

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How can you have a greater influence in as short a time as sophomore forward Cody Zeller has at IU?

Numbers-wise, Zeller will be remembered for his 1,157 career points, for starting in all of IU’s 72 games during the past two seasons and for leading the Hoosiers to a 56-16 record (77.8 winning percentage) from 2011.

But these numbers can’t even begin to tell the tale of what he meant to IU and the Bloomington community.

Any way you slice it, Zeller still is the glue that unites all of the parts of Indiana basketball’s past, present and future.

In a time when Purdue was arguably as strong as they have ever been, and Butler was on its way to two national championship game appearances, Zeller was the guy who made it cool to be a Hoosier again by committing to IU on Nov. 11, 2010.

When he finally stepped on the Assembly Hall floor, he made fans believe IU’s success in the past was not just a fading memory, but instead, a goal within reach.

And now that his IU career finished, he will be remembered as the guy who changed the fate of the program.

“It’s hard to describe it, and it’s hard to put into words,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “But what Cody has done in the short period of time that he’s been a part of Indiana basketball has been to help raise the level of everyone in this program, every coach, every manager, every player, every person associated with it, and that’s not an easy feat.”

As the humble superstar has done throughout his career, he deflected the credit of bringing IU back to his teammates, coaches and support staff, even in his final press conference Wednesday.

But Crean wouldn’t let the modest seven-footer have the final word on the matter.

“I think what you have is that people were really looking forward to having an opportunity to play with Cody and to win with Cody, and that’s exactly what they did,” Crean said.

“Anybody that comes in here now will be the beneficiary of how this program is so player-led by the work ethics and by the desires that they have. A guy like Cody was a huge, huge part of that.”

Back in October, I spoke with Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo about the importance of Zeller for the Indiana program.

Izzo compared Zeller’s relationship with Crean and the big man’s role in the resurgence of IU to the player-coach relationship he had with former Spartan star, Mateen Cleaves.

“(Crean and Zeller) have been a good pair,” Izzo said. “(Crean) needed a star to come to his state like I needed Mateen Cleaves. They are joined at the hip. I think that is important.”

Crean, who was there for two of Cleaves’s first three seasons said he agreed with Izzo and could see similarities because Zeller, like Cleaves, was in a situation where he could have gone to “hotter” programs.

Instead, he decided to be the big difference in a program that already had some guys to build upon.

“I hope that everybody really will continue to remember in the short term — I know that they will in the long term — that the things that Cody has done here in the two years that he has been here have been nothing short of phenomenal,” Crean said.

For as long as Crean is at the head of the IU program, the memory and influence of Zeller — Crean’s first McDonald’s All-American at IU — will be felt.

The best part is that Zeller did all of this with the utmost class that an athlete could possibly display.

He was a role model on the court, in the classroom — he only has 35 credit hours remaining toward his degree from the Kelley School of Business — but most importantly, in the community, that could never get enough of him.

“When you get somebody like him that has been raised the way that he has been raised by his parents, coached like he has been coached, especially by (Washington High School Coach) Gene Miller, impacted the teams, whether it was his summer teams or his high school teams, impacted his school and his community like he did, that’s storybook,” Crean said. “It really is. It’s amazing what he’s done.”

Though it’s a sad day for Hoosier fans that must now say goodbye to the man who revived IU basketball, Bloomington can take solace in this.

Zeller’s final chapter at IU has now been written, but like good books that withstand the test of time, the story of his impact on IU will last forever.

­— mdnorman@indiana.edu

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