If you haven’t had a chance to pick up Terry Hutchen’s book “Rising From The Ashes: The Return of Indiana University Basketball,” then you must head on over to Amazon.com to get your copy. It is a very good read.
Hutchens chronicles the plight of the Hoosiers, from the departure of Bob Knight through the difficult years faced by coach Mike Davis and the controversial years that followed under coach Kelvin Sampson. Crean took the job in 2008 and won six games. The team struggled the next two years, but the foundation was established. All Crean needed was a centerpiece to complete the rebuilding process.
Enter Cody Zeller.
After nearly a decade of futility, the fortunes of the Hoosiers changed when Zeller, the younger brother of Cleveland Cavaliers rookie center Tyler Zeller and Phoenix Suns center-forward Luke Zeller, made a verbal commitment to come to Bloomington, Ind., and play for Crean.
With Zeller leading the charge as a freshman, Crean has brought the storied Indiana Hoosiers basketball program back to national prominence by taking an unranked team at the beginning of the 2011 season all the way to the 2012 Sweet Sixteen. The eye-opening game came during the pre-conference season when Christian Watford’s 3-point shot stunned No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall. From that 3-point on, the Hoosiers never looked back.
When Zeller came back for his sophomore year at Indiana he instantly became the darling of college basketball. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated and single-handedly made the red-striped warmup pants cool again. It takes a real Mr. Basketball to wear those pants.
Zeller, who is listed a 7 feet but probably closer to 6-11 or 6-10, is off to a great start, surging ahead in the player of the year rankings (he’s a near unanimous first-team preseason All-American) and leading the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers to a perfect record. He completely destroyed North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting with eight rebounds in just 28 minutes in a 83-59 Hoosiers win.
Because of the defections and the one-and-done craze, Zeller is the biggest ticket in college hoops. He is the headliner of headliners, and it certainly doesn’t hurt playing for a storied program that is thirsty for success.
Since Larry Bird retired from the NBA, basketball has been searching for the next great American white superstar hoopster. Europeans have had more success (see Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol) in the NBA than U.S.-born white players. With the exception of Kevin Love almost all of the U.S.-born white players have fizzled, from J.J. Redick to Adam Morrison to Tyler Hansbrough to Jimmer Fredette. All four were MVPs in college, but none of them have made a big dent in the NBA. Redick is a serviceable pro, but he’s a complementary piece in Orlando. Morrison has completely fallen out of Association, while Fredette is struggling to find time on the court in Sacramento. Hansbrough showed signs of being a regular starter in Indiana, but he has regressed since the Pacers acquired David West.
After this season, Zeller is expected to turn pro and he should be a sure-fire lottery pick. And barring an injury, he should be the closest thing we’ll ever see to the next Larry Bird. He’s got an incredible motor, plays with an edge, and he is athletic enough to compete under the basket.
And if Zeller leads the Hoosiers to a national championship, we could see Zeller Flakes as the new breakfast of champions.