Crean says Luck and Zeller are similar

Thanks to Cody Zeller's maturation in one year at IU, the Hoosiers are preseason 2012 favorites. Tim Fuller/US Presswire

Last week, the Indianapolis Colts made Andrew Luck the first overall pick in the NFL draft. By most accounts, the former Stanford star is the prototypical NFL quarterback. He’s smart, versatile, strong and accurate.

Jim Harbaugh, who coached Luck in college, helped him develop into a Heisman Trophy candidate prior to leaving Stanford for the San Francisco 49ers gig.

According to Indiana head coach Tom Crean, Harbaugh’s brother-in-law, the NFL head coach believes Hoosiers star Cody Zeller “can be like Luck.”

He’s not switching sports.

But Crean said he’s talked to Harbaugh about the intellectual and physical similarities between Zeller and Luck.

“Our conversations have centered on how [Zeller] got so much better with poise under pressure, reading situations, being able to adjust quickly inside of a game, inside of a possession by possession, much like it is for a young man like Andrew Luck who a lot of times, it wasn’t a situation where they made the adjustment at halftime, they made the adjustment before the next series,” Crean said. “And I think those are the kind of things that stand out.”

Most freshmen are raw in some area of the game. Even Anthony Davis had flaws.

But first-year bigs have the most difficult adjustment at the Division I level. They're accustomed to being the biggest and/or strongest players at the prep level.

Zeller seemed to skip those traditional hiccups. He has great footwork. He doesn’t make many mistakes. And it seemed as though he always knew his options whenever he touched the ball during a freshman campaign that ended with Big Ten freshman of the year honors (coaches). Zeller averaged 15.6 ppg and 6.6 rpg in his first season.

He’ll be a top candidate for the Wooden Award next year. And he could be the top pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He’s No. 2 in nbadraft.net’s current 2013 mock draft.

He’s a talented presence inside but he’s also a solid ball-handler and passer. Crean said Zeller will showcase even more of his versatility next year.

Luck ended his college career amid praise for the diversity within his game.

Crean said he’ll use Zeller in new ways next season and people will see that’s he’s more than a traditional big man.

“There’s a play that Andrew Luck had during the season when he took off and made a run that was incredible. I think it would make any running back proud,” Crean said. “And I think people will see that [versatility] next year. [Zeller has] been in the pick-and-roll, the three weeks of our offseason program, as much as Jordan Hulls or Victor Oladipo has been when it comes to having the basketball in his hands. It’s all about expanding your game, bringing confidence to your game and really being able to transfer that learning and that confidence to the court.”

The Hoosiers are No. 1 in ESPN.com’s early preseason Top 25 poll. And they should enter the year with a Top-3 slot in every major poll once the 2012-13 season begins.

With Zeller, Christian Watford and a top recruiting class on its way to Bloomington, the Hoosiers could contend for the national title next year.

The same way Stanford’s operation revolved around Luck’s production, Crean said, the Hoosiers will rely on Zeller. And he’s confident Zeller can handle that responsibility, despite the new expectations that have been placed on the program.

“[Zeller and Luck have] that unrelenting desire to get better and Andrew had so many different things he was good at, but he was always putting his ability to get football better for him [first], even in the offseason, whether it be the film, whether it be the extra work, the weight work,” Crean said. “When you have a high, high-level player like [Harbaugh] has with Andrew Luck and like we believe we have with Cody, you want to keep stretching them and pushing them and expanding their game as much as possible.”

Had Zeller decided to go pro this summer, he would have been a lottery pick. But he never really flirted with the idea of leaving.

From the first day he stepped onto campus, Zeller wanted more than a one-and-done experience. Harbaugh told Crean that Zeller possessed the same determination throughout his collegiate career.

And it started at home for both players.

Luck’s father played quarterback in the NFL. That pedigree proved beneficial during his collegiate career.

Crean said Zeller’s basketball heritage -- two brothers, Luke and Tyler, were high-level Division I basketball players -- also helped prepare him for the next level.

“Cody comes from an outstanding family of people that have done it. He’s been extremely well coached. But he’s so grounded,” Crean said. “When I look at Andrew Luck, I see someone that’s highly efficient and yet very grounded, but intense as can be. And I think when you see Cody, there’s an intensity, there’s an emotion to him but he doesn’t play emotional.”