BROOKLYN — Cody Zeller is battling “asthmatic bronchitis,” but that didn’t stop him from wanting to get better entering Tuesday’s Legends Classic final against Georgetown at the Barclays Center.
The 7-foot sophomore center told head coach Tom Crean and the staff that he wanted to watch game film of Monday’s win over Georgia, in which he managed just six points and four rebounds in front of 47 NBA scouts who wanted to see if he was indeed worthy of the No. 1 pick next June.
Feeling better a day later, Zeller responded with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists as the Hoosiers fended off Otto Porter and the Hoyas, 82-72 in a dramatic overtime game before a mostly pro-Indiana crowd of 10,478 to win the Legends Classic.
“I felt good today,” Zeller said. “Up until today I haven’t felt so good. I’ve had some form of asmathic bronchitis or something so I couldn’t breathe very well. Tonight I finally got my wind back.”
Zeller, who made the All-Tournament team along with teammate Jordan Hulls, the MVP of the event, said he insisted on watching the film of Monday’s game, in which he shot 2-for-4 in 27 minutes, and received criticism from NBA scouts.
“I’ve always wanted to go back and watch the film whether I play bad or play well,” he said. “There’s always little things that you can pick up on that you can do better.”
Crean said it’s easy to coach a guy like that, who wants to get better.
“He sits there and he can make personal corrections and he can take it,” said Crean, who won his 250th career game as a head coach. “He wants to be great. He wants to be better than that. And when you’ve got that, he can really respond and he can make adjustments.
“People forget how young he is. I think because he’s so mature and we because count on him for so many different things, it’s really easy to think he’s older than he is. He’s not, he’s a young guy…He’s a developing player. He’s so far from a finished product and it’s really easy to lose sight of that, but we never lose sight of that.”
After Greg Whittington’s layup, Zeller was fouled in the lane and heard chants of “Over-rated” from the Georgetown fans as he shot free throws. He made both to put Indiana up 63-56 with 1:18 left.
“I’ve heard it all in high school,” he said. “People used to be pretty creative so I don’t worry about it too much.”
The good news for Indiana fans is that they are 5-0 despite having Zeller play sick against Georgetown’s long, rangy forwards, Porter and Whittington, and despite playing without the freshman duo of 7-footer Peter Jurkin and 6-foot-8 small forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea , who are still awaiting word from the NCAA on if they’ll be cleared.
“As we get more front line guys back that will help us,” Crean said.
For now, though, they won a November championship even with their star battling an ailment.
“Yeah, he’s been kind of suffering of a little sickness lately but he’s the Player of the Year, National Player of the Year,” said teammate Victor Oladipo, who added 12 points in the win. “He’s a great player. He’s the best player in the country and he can play through that.”