Cody Zeller: The anatomy of a quiet recruitment

As his name became one of the trendiest topics in the world on Twitter and Indiana fans were rejoicing in his signing as if their long-awaited basketball messiah had finally arrived, Cody Zeller was asked if the pressure was too much. If knowing the hopes and dreams of one of the nation’s most passionate fanbases were riding on his college decision ever wore on him.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Zeller said. “I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as you guys are making it, but it’s whatever. I guess I don’t have a choice. I guess it’s a good problem to have.”

It wasn’t as big a deal, though, in large part because he and his family made sure it wasn’t.

As had been often discussed, the Zeller family had been through this before with eldest son Luke, who played at Notre Dame from 2005-09, and middle son Tyler, now a junior at North Carolina. Their recruiting processes taught them two important lessons that they put into play with Cody.

“The biggest thing that Cody did was one, he controlled the process a lot better,” Zeller’s father Steve said. “Tyler did a good job. We didn’t do a good job with Luke as far as controlling the process. The second thing is we did the research. Cody did a lot of getting on the internet and doing the research, finding out who’s who. He asked as far as he could go talk to. We talked to the president of IU. We talked to the dean of the Kelley Business School. We did that with all the colleges. It was a situation where he got to meet those folks.”

The research and communication with high-ranking members of each school is interesting in itself because it reinforces Zeller’s reputation as a true student athlete. He carries a 3.9 grade point average at Washington High School, and according to Indiana coach Tom Crean, he’s only posted something as low as an A-minues once in his life.

But let’s go back to that part about controlling the process.

“There were times when Cody just said, ‘I’m not gonna answer the phone,'” the elder Zeller said. “‘I’m not gonna think about it.’ The first one, with Luke, it seemed like he was spending hours and hours and hours talking with coaches, talking with schools. Worrying about it. He never worried about it.”

And he handled the media the same way. At a certain point, he just stopped answering the phone. He knew that if he gave one reporter a tidbit, dozens of others would call back to confirm it and try to get more.

Calls came after each of his three official visits. He ignored them all, and they started slowing down.

“As far as talking to the media after the official visits, stuff like that,” Zeller said. “It was just little things like that that we knew were coming and we knew how to handle it the third time around. I think it really helped. … I’m not a big fan of interviews. It’s alright every once in a while. I know everybody’s been waiting for this announcement.”

Said Zeller’s mother Lorri: “We learned from mistakes. One of the things, nothing against the media, but things have developed in the media since Luke’s recruitment. Like, there’s now Twitter. We didn’t have Twitter when Luke was being recruited. Many more internet sites, things like that. So the explosion of some of those, there’s just so much information, rumors and all that. Cody didn’t do interviews after each official visit, because he really didn’t have anything to say. I think that kind of helped control the process, and that just helped him focus on what he needed to do, and that was make a decision.”

The Zeller’s also closed ranks and locked down in the time leading up to his official visit to Indiana and afterward, as the IU fanbase moved toward the brink of collective insanity waiting for his announcement and completely unfounded rumors started flying.

“We didn’t really get a sense of that until the last two weeks, in all honesty,” Steve Zeller said. “We had somebody from IU point out that it was bigger than Damon Bailey. Well, we remembered Damon Bailey, we’d just moved here when he did it. We never really thought about it that way. … We basically isolated ourselves from it. Of course you’re gonna meet people. People are going to talk to you and that’s fine. They’re all very caring people and they all want the best for you. But we isolated ourselves from all of that. We spent a lot of time not talking about that.”

Said Lorri: “There was waaay too much hype for him. He’s just an 18-year-old trying to decide where to go to college and to make the best decision for him.”

But the Zeller’s didn’t do anything to add to it, and even when he decided on Indiana about a week ago, he kept it quiet, telling virtually no one except his parents. He didn’t even tell his brother Tyler, who asked not to have to keep the secret from his coach, until earlier the day of the announcement. His high school coach Gene Miller didn’t know until just before the announcement.

And on Thursday, it all ended with very little drama compared to what can sometimes transpire in recruiting, especially in an era when it’s covered so closely and in a situation where the in-state fan base was so obsessed with the process. For as much speculation as there was surrounding him, Zeller handled his recruitment exactly as he said he would, taking the lessons from the Zellers before him.

“I think this would be the kind of recruiting process that every college coach would want,” Miller said. “It was all above board, just a great atmosphere around the whole thing, and it was run with great reputation and great character on everybody’s part.”


  1. What is the plural of Zeller? Zellers.

    What is the possessive of Zeller? Zeller’s.

    What is the possessive plural of Zeller? Zellers’.

  2. Sounds like a great family. IU has not only landed a very good athlete, but an excellent student….just the kind of kids we need to bring the program back.

  3. Great insight into the Zeller/Zellers/Zeller’s/Zellers’!

    I think CZ is great recruit because he will be a true student/athlete. THAT is Indiana basketball.

    Thanks, Dustin!!

  4. CZ is not only somebody that will not only raise the level of bball at IU but will certainly help the team’s GPA average too, something that matters at IU, unlike that huge blue cesspool in Lexington.

  5. I thought the plural form was “Zelli,” like cactus. That would make the possessive plural Zelli’s.

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