COMMENTARY: Cody Zeller a deserving Mr. Basketball winner

INDIANAPOLIS — Three state titles in four years. The Trester Mental Attitude Award winner. Signed to play at Indiana University. And saying a bad word about him is like hating on white bread and whole milk.

Cody Zeller will win Mr. Basketball. South’s Dee Davis should finish second, and he would be a runaway Mr. Basketball winner during so many seasons; he’s just a victim of age, and had the misfortune to enroll in school the same year as Washington’s last Zeller brother.

Zeller is everything the Mr. Basketball award is supposed to be about and, truthfully, he profits from the pro-Indiana bias in the voting and the fact brothers Luke and Tyler each won the award and subsequently represented the state as well as anyone could have hoped.

But while the race between Zeller and Davis would be neck-and-neck if his name was Cody Johnson and he was headed to Illinois, Zeller is a most worthy winner.

He proved that again in his final high school game, scoring 20 points and pulling down 18 points as Washington beat Culver 61-46.

“It’s definitely fun winning it,” Zeller said. “It gets better every time. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and my coaches.”

Zeller attacked 7-foot-1 Culver center Chier Ajou, forcing the guy who altered seemingly every Hatchet shot to the bench (Ajou played 18 minutes before fouling out). Without Ajou on the court, Zeller’s teammates (and he) prospered — Dylan Ervin scored 18, and Kurtis Anthony had 10.

On the defensive end, Culver seemed hesistant to attack the rim and Zeller — instead the best player, Jeremiane Myers, was 2-of-7 from 3-point range, the Eagles 3-of-15 overall.

Over the last three years, I’ve seen Zeller play — as a Hatchet and as a member of the Indiana Elite program — more times than I could count. He has an unassuming game. Rarely flashy. Only occasionally making a jaw-dropping move in the post.

Instead, Zeller is like white bread and whole milk — carb-friendly whole wheat and organic, DHA-added may be all the rage, but the classics still get the job done.

“He’s the total package,” Washington coach Gene Miiller said. “He does everything well. If you’re trying to pick a guy who you want to coach, he’d be a good example.”

Earlier this week, Tom Crean talked to me about what Zeller will bring to the Hoosiers. How his winning mentality — and the accompanying work ethic — will be infectious inside the locker room.

That’s absolutely what Indiana needs, and Zeller is not the only recruit with such a mindset. The guy who could very well win Mr. Basketball in 2012, Park Tudor’s Yogi Ferrell, showed how much he wants it while winning the 2A state title.

Ferrell came close to winning state as a sophomore — he carried the Panthers throughout the tournament and blamed himself for missing the final shot. He came back as a junior determined to get back to Conseco Fieldhouse, and did just that.

“All the hard work — I didn’t want it stop here,” Ferrell said. “I wanted to come out with seven wins in March, and that’s what we did.”

The 5-11 junior self-admittedly did not control the game with his jumper — he had 14 points, but took 15 shots to do it (making six) and was 1-of-5 from 3-point range.

But with the game on the line and previously-undefeated Hammond Bishop Noll trying to take control of the contest, Ferrell was a point guard.

He drove the lane, demanding attention, and dumped it off. He had six assists, some of them on a wire or without a look in that direction, and many to freshman Trevon Bluiett.

And Bluiett, a 6-foot-5 freshman with a scholarship offer from Indiana, was ready.

“You actually don’t know when he’s going to pass it,” Bluiett said. “He has no-look passes and all of that. All I do is set a pick and roll to the basket. That’s what he tells me to do and he’ll give it to me when he needs to.”

Bluiett was actually the hero, grabbing an offensive rebound and converting an old-fashioned 3-point play with 1:22 remaining that proved to be the game-winner.

It was the move of a winner, on a day where Indiana prospects young and old dominated the show by knowing what it takes to win in March. For an

Indiana program that has been one-and-done in March too many times in recent seasons, it is a welcome sight.

7 comments

  1. I am very proud to welcome both of these fine young men to Indiana University. It would sure be fun to have both IU AND Butler to cheer for in the NCAA tournament (and the sooner the better).

  2. Are you guys serious? Dee Davis is probably fourth on the list behind Teague and Dawson. I think Davis will end up third, though. Technically, Teague is probably the best player in the class.

  3. Docdave- Mr. Basketball is not based on your rank on recruiting websites, its based on how you and your team does during the season, teague didnt make it past the regional and Davis won State in 4A and was the best player on that team. How is he fourth? I agree with this article. Good Job.

  4. I agree that Mr. basketball is very subjective, but if your team is better, which BS was, you are going to make it further. This ends up being a popularity contest. For him to say that Davis would have run away with it in a normal year is a stretch. Part of our differing opinion is I am in Indy and this paper is out of Bloomington. Everyone has their local flavor with this thing.

  5. docdave,

    You’re absolutely right on the regional nature of Mr. Basketball. There’s also a large group of individuals who do not vote until after the state championships (which is why Bruce Grimm, after having a great state title game, went from unknown to No. 2 in Mr. Basketball voting in 2009). Those voters value who gets to the state title game, which is why I would expect to see Zeller and Davis as the top two vote-getters.

  6. That is a great arguement Hugh. This is paralleled by any professional league MVP talk. Is it the most Valuable player that year, or the player that is deemed the best senior? I have always gone with the best player. Branden Dawson is definitely an MVP team player, and took his team to the finals in 3A last year. I am sure that Marquis Teague makes Pike a ten times better team. I think those teams (Lew Wallace and Pike) had harder draws for the tournament (NW Indiana and Indy) than South. So leading your team to the finals can’t necessarily be the measuring stick. South also has a system that is a proven winner. It is a fun arguement, but an irrelevant discussion. Cody is most deserving for either criteria. Thanks Hugh, good article.

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