Rising Star: Indiana Sophomore Cody Zeller

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(credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

By: Mark Chalifoux

The man at the center of Indiana’s return to the top of the college basketball world also happens to be the best center in college basketball, sophomore Cody Zeller. The 6-foot 11-inch, 240-pound center has been making the most of his decision to forgo the 2012 NBA draft to return to Indiana as he has clearly established himself as one of the best players in the country.

For starters, Zeller is a tremendous athlete. He may not be the biggest player on the court but he runs the floor well for a big man and has solid ball-handling skills. He’s a terrific low-post scorer, averaging 17.2 points per game. What’s been important for Zeller to show this season are his increased rebounding numbers. He’s averaging 8.2 per game, up from 6.6 in his freshman campaign.

Lately, Zeller has taken his role as the Hoosiers go-to player to a new level, pulling in two double-doubles in the last two games as Indiana goes through a mid-season slump. Zeller posted 23 points and 10 rebounds in a 64-59 loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 15 and put up 21 points and 13 rebounds in helping Indiana avoid an upset to Northwestern 67-59 on Jan. 20.

Several mock drafts project Zeller as the top overall pick and every analyst agrees he’s a top-5 pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He will need to improve his strength and defense at the next level, but his scoring prowess and basketball IQ have scouts drooling. NBAdraftnet cites LaMarcus Aldridge as the best pro comparison for Zeller’s skill set.

Zeller’s game continues to mature and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to exert his will on opposing teams. Some analysts think he doesn’t have that killer instinct needed to truly be a star (which may be a valid criticism) but it’s important to remember he’s only 20 years old and what some criticize as passiveness, others praise as unselfishness.

This much is clear: Zeller will be the best pro in his family (brother Tyler is a center for the Cavaliers and Luke is a forward for Phoenix) and Indiana should enjoy what should be his final collegiate season. The Hoosiers seem prime for a Final 4 run, and if that comes to fruition, we’ll see the best Cody Zeller yet.

Cody Zeller highlights from his freshman year

Mark Chalifoux is a contributing writer to CBS Local Digital Media and can be reached at and @markchalifoux on Twitter.

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