When highly touted recruit Cody Zeller committed to Indiana last November, the decision was noted more for its symbolic importance than any tangible results Zeller would likely bring. For Indiana, landing a top in-state recruit, one of the best big men in the class of 2011, was a sign that Tom Crean had shored up the Hoosiers' longtime local recruiting woes and begun to build the foundation for a brighter future.
Whether Zeller was a star on the floor in his first season or not didn't matter nearly as much. He wasn't seen as a one-and-done level talent. He was good, of course, and ranked accordingly. But there were more important forces at work.
Alas, after four weeks, Zeller has already become a star -- leading the Hoosiers to a 9-0 record and the biggest victory of the Tom Crean era over then-No. 1 Kentucky Saturday. This has required a slight recalibration among fans: Maybe the Hoosiers are already really good! Maybe we don't need to wait! That sort of thing.
It seems NBA scouts and general managers have undergone a similar consideration. When you play as well as Zeller has, and you are also nearly 7-feet tall with impressive post polish, balance and ball skills, you are going to draw the attention of the next level. According to Chad Ford's latest 2012 draft big board, that's exactly what Zeller has done. Ford ranks Zeller No. 12 in his latest rankings -- sandwiched between Kentucky prospects Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 11) and Terrence Jones (No. 13), and two spots ahead of Florida Gators man-child Patric Young (No. 14). Zeller is also five spots ahead of older brother Tyler (No. 17), which we can only hope leads to some brotherly rough-housing during the unwrapping of Christmas presents. (I would probably pay to watch the three Zellers, including eldest brother Luke, play a driveway game of 21.)
As our friends at Rumor Central wrote today, the continued rise draft projections means Cody Zeller could have a serious decision to make next spring. Of course, it's a long season, and the Indiana freshman could drop plenty. But he could also keep on rising.
Whatever happens, Zeller has been much better than advertised. Naturally, the pros have taken notice.