Special to ZAGSBLOG
BROOKLYN –– With nearly 50 NBA scouts and personnel at Barclays Center on Monday evening for the Legends Classic, including Knicks General Manager Glen Grunwald and Assistant General Manager Allan Houston, Indiana University sophomore 7-footer Cody Zeller, the consensus Preseason National Player of the Year, didn’t exactly give them much to write home about.
Zeller, who has been tabbed as a top 3 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft should he declare, finished with six points on 2-for-4 shooting, four rebounds and four turnovers as No. 1 Indiana ran away in the second half from a feisty Georgia team, 66-53.
Apparently battling flu-like symptoms in recent days, his performance was marked by foul trouble early and some very good interior defense by the Bulldogs throughout. Indiana was carried by the combination of Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, who combined to score 43 points
“Zeller really struggled at the offensive end tonight,” one Western Conference scout told SNY.tv. “He certainly did not look or play like the No. 1 pick.”
Zeller will have better nights and this one poor showing is unlikely to affect his draft status much, if at all, but what it shows is that the hype surrounding him after a huge freshman season is not going away any time soon. Even still, his head coach, Tom Crean, was adamant that his star is fazed by nothing, not even a poor showing on national television with NBA scouts watching.
“I don’t know how many NBA guys there were, but I can promise you Cody’s unaffected by that,” Crean said. “If he’s affected by that, he would’ve left last year. When his day comes and he decides he wants to leave, he will. Cody is not affected by those things.”
A charging foul sent Zeller to the bench for the rest of the first half with just over seven minutes to play as he never really found a groove thanks to the Bulldogs defense, anchored by Donte’ Williams. His one highlight move came at Williams’ expense as Zeller got him on on his hip, flashed to the middle, received a pass, turned, rose over Williams and hit an 8-footer for a 42-38 lead with 12:21 left to play.
Zeller had come into the game averaging 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds against a soft schedule that included Bryant, North Dakota State and Sam Houston States. After a rough go on Monday, it figures to get no easier in the Legends Classic final on Tuesday evening against defensive-minded Georgetown, a 78-70 winner over No. 11 UCLA in Monday’s nightcap.
“I just expect him to be Cody Zeller,” Crean said. “There’s a couple things that we can correct in a short period of time. The bottom line is, they (the defense) always have to account for him. He’ll be fine.”
While there are outlets that have Zeller marked as the No. 1 pick in 2013, it would be hard to find anyone not predicting him to go inside the top 3 and with good reason.
At 7-feet, he runs the floor extremely well, has a high basketball IQ and is generally mistake-free. He flirted with entering the 2012 NBA Draft, where his older brother and former University of North Carolina All-American forward, Tyler Zeller, was taken 17th overall by the Dallas Mavericks, but opted to stay in Bloomington for his sophomore season.
As a freshman, he averaged 15.6 and 6.6 rebounds on his way to being named an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American, Big Ten Freshman of the Year and second-team All-Big Ten.
“The improvement every single year, I’ve seen him since high school and he’s gotten bigger and stronger,” a second NBA scout told SNY.tv. “He has the perfect demeanor. He doesn’t react to good times, he doesn’t react to bad times, he just plays. He is very highly-skilled, very intelligent and a player that is getting stronger and stronger. He can just flat-out play.”
JURKIN, MOSQUERA-PEREA cleared to travel
Earlier in the day, the freshman duo of 7-foot freshman center Peter Jurkin and 6-8 freshman forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea won an appeal and were cleared to travel to New York City for Monday and Tuesday’s games. Neither player was in uniform on Monday, but the pair was met with applause from the pro-Hoosier crowd upon arrival at Barclays Center late in the first half.
An appeal to shorten their nine-game suspension will be heard on Tuesday, which means the pair could theoretically be in uniform Tuesday night if the appeal goes in their favor. Counting Monday, Jurkin and Mosquera-Perea have missed four games. If they miss the full nine, they will not suit up until Dec. 15 at Butler, a game that will be nationally-televised on CBS.
On Nov. 6, Jurkin and Mosquera-Perea were suspended for the first nine games of the season after the NCAA determined they received impermissible benefits from Mark Adams, a coach with the adidas-sponsored Indiana Elite AAU squad and a booster by the NCAA’s definition.
Jurkin was found to have accepted approximately $6,000 in benefits and Mosquera-Perea accepted approximately $8,000. Jurkin must repay $250 of those benefits to “a charity of his choice” and Mosquera-Perea must repay around $1,590 to charity.
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