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April 11, 2013

'After awhile, you just kind of know'

Cody Zeller made it official yesterday in front of the media, players and friends, but the big sophomore has known for some time that this was going to be his last year at Indiana.

"After awhile you just kind of know," said Zeller in the late afternoon press conference. "I kind of knew, barring injury or something drastic that this might be my last year, so I was enjoying every last minute of it. There was a sense of closure, playing my last game at Assembly Hall, playing my last tournament. I definitely left everything out there that I had. Put everything I had into each practice and each game. I just kind of knew over time."

His Indiana teammates kind of knew as well.

"I think those guys kind of expected it," said Zeller. "The people that have been helping me the most with my decision --- I had them try to put themselves into my shoes with what they would do in my situation. A lot of my teammates would just tell me to go."

And those shoes are set in the NBA lottery. That's the first 14 picks awarded to non-playoff teams, order determined in a drawing after the regular season. While the NBA has instituted a rookie salary scale, even those players at the bottom of the lottery will likely earn at least $2 million per year until the opportunity for a much larger second contract is available.

The well known mock drafts have Zeller going anywhere between pick No. 6 and No. 11 and Indiana coach Tom Crean indicated the more direct feedback fron the NBA have his sophomore in pretty safe territory.

"There's nothing that has come back from the undergraduate advisor committee or the general managers and scouting directors that have said anything less than we would have expected, which is for him to be somewhere in that lottery area."

While the same draft prognosis was there for Zeller after his freshman year at Indiana, he mentioned how much closer he's come to earning his degree and added --- "Victor (Oladipo), Christian (Watford), Jordan (Hulls), and Derek (Elston) - were leaving. Obviously IU will have a great year next season but the guys that I was closest to are graduating."

In regards to the former, he has a plan in place to get a degree from the Kelley School of Business by the end of next summer.

"I'm only 35 credits shy of graduation, which will take me two summers to complete," said Zeller. "The first summer will be 14 credits completing ICORE for the Business School, which will leave me with 21. The second summer I'll take 15 credits and then I'll finish the remainder six credits online. Right now I plan on coming back and finishing that."

Zeller is the only player in the nation this year honored as a regular All-American and as an Academic All-American. That's why much of his recent time wasn't being spent on researching the NBA decision.

"The past couple of weeks have been tough academically getting caught up with the work I missed during the tournament," said Zeller. "The past two weeks I have just been studying like crazy trying to get caught up."

He hopes his work ethic on and off the court will be one of his lasting impacts to the program.

"The culture really changed. Vic (Oladipo) and Will (Sheehey) kind of started it before I got here," said Zeller. "That's what it takes to be successful. That will continue with the guys that are here, they'll pass it along to the freshmen and it will continue for a long time."

While Oladipo is clearly a two guard, Zeller's professional role could either be as a center or power forward. If it's the latter as many suggest, it will be a bit of a new role and associate head coach Tim Buckley is confident the big man can make the adjustment.

"There aren't a lot of weaknesses in his game so you can put him in a lot of situations on the floor," said Buckley. "I think that flexibility is really going to help him."

That flexibility will probably need to include a more aggressiveness in taking jump shots on the perimeter. After showing a pretty reliable jumper in high school and summer AAU player, Zeller was a bit reluctant to pull the perimeter trigger in college.

"He probably didn't feel that was something we needed to do and he's a guy that is always cognizant of getting good shots," said Buckley. "Obviously he can shoot the ball because of the way he shot free throws and we saw him do it in practice. He can shoot the ball from three but it never really presented itself when he was playing in the games. Because of his ability to drive the ball, he played against a lot of guys that couldn't necessarily keep him in front. So there were times where he could beat people off the dribble instead of trying to settle for the jump shot."

If Zeller had left a year ago, he would have made the move on his own. This year he has a compatriot.

"It will be fun to go through the workouts with Vic, we're in the same situation," said Zeller. "We've already been working out together and it will be fun to have someone in the same situation as me to compare notes with and go from there."

The quiet, reserved sophomore with a deadpan humor is already joking that his more outgoing teammate will make his suit selection for draft day on June 27th in Madison Square Garden.

"I'll think I'll go with whatever Vic has, he'll be my wardrobe guy," joked Zeller.

Losing those two to the league along with seniors Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Christian Watford will make for full rebuilding mode for coach Tom Crean.

"I know what we're losing, I've got the stat sheets but I don't dwell on that," said Crean. "I focus on how much better we're going to make everyone else here, what we're going to do in recruiting and most importantly being able to watch these guys go to their next destination."

After back-to-back press conferences for NBA declarations, the coach is hitting the road today to see if he can add another piece to next year's team to help make up for those lost this week.

"We will not be here tomorrow, because I'm going recruiting," said Crean.

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