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College

Men's basketball: Hoosiers' Zeller eager, improved for second season

Indiana's Cody Zeller dunks during an exhibition game against Indiana Wesleyan on Nov. 1 in Bloomington, Ind. The Hoosiers have their first preseason No. 1 ranking in 33 years.
Indiana's Cody Zeller dunks during an exhibition game against Indiana Wesleyan on Nov. 1 in Bloomington, Ind. The Hoosiers have their first preseason No. 1 ranking in 33 years.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Cody Zeller was the biggest reason Indiana spent last season rebounding, not rebuilding.

This time around, he could be the difference between winning a national championship and simply being another good college team.

Zeller doesn’t seem to mind the discussion swirling around him and this suddenly revived Hoosiers program. But the soft-spoken, mild-mannered big man doesn’t pay much attention to individual accolades, preseason rankings, projected awards or hype.

“It is pretty neat to see all that stuff, but it doesn’t really matter too much,” Zeller said. “If the awards come at the end of the year, I’ll be pretty excited.”

From the moment Zeller emerged as a prized recruit at Washington High School in the rural southwestern part of Indiana, Hoosiers fans discussed Zeller’s college choice. To help convince Zeller to come to Bloomington, they serenaded him by chanting his name at Assembly Hall.

Zeller rewarded the die-hard fans with 27 wins last season. Now he’s the early favorite to win Big Ten player of the year and came within one vote of being the only unanimous preseason All-America choice.

A year ago, Zeller averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. He shot 62.3 percent from the field, fourth in the nation and second in school history. He was the first Hoosier in 5 years to record six steals in a game and finished the season with 20 points and seven boards against eventual national champion Kentucky.

Indiana’s 2011 Mr. Basketball could be knocking down 3-pointers this season, something he did in high school. Last season, he didn’t take a single 3. But Zeller worked on his long-distance shooting throughout the summer and demonstrated how good he could be by winning the long-range shooting
contest at Hoosier Hysteria, Indiana’s version of Midnight Madness.

More troubling for opponents, Zeller insists the extra weight and muscle he’s put on has only made him a better player.

“That’s a big part of it because I’ve still got to be able to move,” he said. “I feel like I can move maybe even better than I did last year.”

Tonight, tonight

Bryant at Indiana

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington

TV: Big Ten Network

Line: Indiana by 35

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