Tom Crean praises Cody Zeller’s mental focus, desire to win

On Saturday, Cody Zeller and the Washington Hatchets will play for their third state title in four seasons.

That Zeller, who signed with Indiana in November, will do so is of little surprise to Indiana coach Tom Crean.

“He’s the most mentally focused kid I’ve ever recruited,” Crean said on Wednesday.

During the fall, Crean was a frequent visitor to Washington’s practices. He was there to recruit Zeller (as was North Carolina coach Roy Williams and Butler coach Brad Stevens) but it also allowed him to see the 6-foot-11 Zeller work.

He watched how Zeller responded to Washington coach Gene Miiller’s coaching. How Zeller worked during drills, and pushed himself through conditioning exercises.

It’s not just on campus, either. Crean watched Zeller win tournament after tournament during the summer months as part of the Indiana Elite program. When Crean talks about finding year-round winners, he’s talking about players like Zeller (and Park Tudor point guard Yogi Ferrell, who will play in a second-straight 2A title game on Saturday; Crean cannot talk about Ferrell, since he has not signed a letter of intent).

“I would think (Zeller) would win if he was playing baseball,” Crean said. “… or table tennis.”

That intense focus on winning, and an understanding of how it happens, is what Zeller will bring to the Indiana program, Crean said.

“I think it’s an example to start with,” Crean said.

From day one, Jordan Hulls was focused on getting better, Crean said. Maurice Creek was the same way, though injuries have hurt his progress. The team’s two freshmen, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, raised the expectation level.

“Vic and Will, they just go to the gym and get better,” Crean said.

Before he officially became a Hoosier, and more since then, Zeller has been around the locker room. He’s gotten to know the current Hoosiers, and they’ve gotten to know him. It quickly became clear, Crean said, that Zeller deserves “nothing less than complete respect.”

(Photo: Chris Howell | Herald-Times)


  1. I agree on Watford. While he’s a great talent, it’s almost like he’s a cancer on the team.

    My favorite player of all time is Cheney. He WANTED to win and he WANTED to help his teammates get better.

    Zeller reminds me of him.

    My most hated Hoosier of all time was Patterson. Super talented but didn’t seem to give a **** about winning……and it rubbed off on the rest of the team.

    Reminds me of of Watford.

    It wouldn’t hurt me one bit if Watford transferred. While he has a lot of talent, I think his attitude kills us.

    Yeah, he played while hurt, but the team doesn’t seem to have that KILLER instinct….and I think they feed off Watford’s “so what” attitude.”

    With Jordy and Zeller as leaders, without Watford dragging them down, I think they team kicks butt.

  2. Great stories in USA Today and the New York Times Wednesday- both featured on the Google News sports section- about Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, West Point, Duke and their 900+ wins. A lot of wisdom about how you teach, build a culture of winning and carry young men to focus on team goals. Inspiring.

    We can all learn from it, including all coaches who hope to develop, grow and set clear, valuable objectives: teaching and leading young men like Watford, Creek, Oladipo, Sheehey, Zeller and all the others. It applies to life as well.

    Building that environment and reproducing that culture should be the minimum objective for IU basketball, football and all our sports programs.

    (Note: What is the point of calling anyone a ‘cancer’ Laffy?)

  3. I think you guys are morons. Watford didn’t take the leap I wanted him to this year, but he was better. His 3pt% was the second highest on the whole team. He’s a great shooter for his size and his FT%, which was already high, got better as well. He is stronger, but he’s still not strong enough yet. Reggie Miller or any shooter ever will tell you that the only way to pick up those percentages is to get in the gym and practice, practice, practice. But Watford never gets credit for having done that this summer and instead has all his mistakes magnified. I understand that he has potential and could be better, but to say that he isn’t good, hasn’t worked to get better, or even shouldn’t be on the team is just dumb.

    I don’t think he doesn’t care. I think he’s just not a demonstrative guy. He led our team in free throw attempts this year… even after he came back and played with a broken hand. He’s got heart. How is it that he is playing with a broken hand and all anyone did was complain about his game? None of his teammates picked their game up for him and got to the line more. Not team cancer Verdell Jones or choir boy golden child Jordan Hulls. Neither promising freshman was able to do it(they can’t hit their fts yet anyway). So Wat went in their with a broken hand and got half out free throw attempts in pretty much every game after he got back. He’s not the perfect player, but he is good and has gotten better.

    Crean presses him because his ceiling is so high. Watford will be a very very good senior for the Indiana Hoosiers.

    If you think losing a guy like Watford wouldn’t hurt us in both 2011 and 2012 then I don’t know what to tell you. Wat led us in a ton of categories this year and should be much more confident and strong on the floor next year. I wish it would’ve happened faster too. Oh well. No reason to wish him off the team. Hulls looked terrible last year and needed more time to show what kind of player he can be. He needs more time to become that player. Watford deserves the same patience. Hulls was throwing up donuts late in the year and nothing is ever his fault. Why all our players aren’t treated the same I will never know.

  4. Everyone has their opinions and I have learned that as objective as I think I can be, some people think I am way off base. With that said, I adored Patterson. I remember him taking a game over vs Duke and having 30 plus points…it was like he was on a mission. IU won that game if my memory is correct. The last 3 years he was at IU he avg 12-14 points a game. If you want to get on someone from that class, get on Charlie Miller.

  5. You are right about Patterson. His performance against the Devils is almost a legend. The problem is during his four years at IU his singing performances were acclaimed more than his BB efforts. Charlie Miller too was an underachiever and on that team held that position supreme as a hell of an athlete that never developed a BB IQ.

  6. I completely disagree with Laffy’s comments about Watford. “Cancer on the team”…are you serious? Watford’s only knock is that he was asked/expected to carry the load for the team that didn’t have their expected starting center (Guy) or the return of a consistent scorer in the backcourt (Creek). On a team with no clear leader he was expected to lead but really doesn’t have the experience or personality to do so yet. He was also asked to play out of position. I thought the game in East Lansing was when he finally showed some true grit. Unfortunately he lost all the momentum he built up in that game by getting hurt and missing a few games after. Did he try to do too much at the end of games which resulted in mistakes? Sure. It wasn’t because he was trying to pad his stats or anything, he just wanted to win and felt like he needed to be the guy to make it happen since it was clear nobody else could carry the load. He’ll get stronger and learn not to force shots late in games.

  7. Patterson had one game in 4 years he kicked butt.

    La de freaking da.

    Even Knight said he didn’t have a killer instinct.

  8. Don’t forget Neil Reed. That class had good potential. The wheels came off and they had no chemistry. I don’t think that was the team that Knight wanted/recrited. Especially after the choking, And Reed left.
    Not pleasant memories. Was Guyton a freshman or soph when Patterson was a senior. I know there was also some carryover with Evans and Baily, Henderson. Just can’t remember who all played with each other.

  9. Patterson is the #21 career score in IU history. He was a pretty good player. Sure, he didn’t live up to the hype. But he wasn’t nearly as bad as some of you are leading on.

    And Watford will be a huge loss. Like him or not, he’s one of the only guys on the team that can actually put the ball in the basket.

  10. Ever since Patterson was on the team, our guys played soft.

    He was a cancer even after he left.

    If Watford leaves, I’ll cheer it.

    In case you missed it, “scoring points” doesn’t win championships.

    Defense and hustle do.

  11. “Cheaney” is one of many great former Hoosiers whom we are privileged to celebrate. Why disparage the ones who didn’t live up to individual’s expectations?

    Is it possible for posters to be “cancers” on the blog?

    Just wondering…

  12. I don’t think Watford is a cancer on the team.

    Patterson was.

    Though I do think Watford’s laid-back attitude drags the team down.

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