IOWA CITY, Ia. — Cody Zeller enjoys talking hoops with his uncle, Iowa native Al Eberhard.
“He played against the legends, like Dr. J (Julius Erving), all those guys,” Zeller said. “I love talking to him about his time in the NBA.”
Eberhard, a former all-stater at Springville High School who played his college ball at Missouri, was the 15th player taken in the first round of the 1974 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. He played in 220 NBA games over four seasons.
Zeller, Indiana’s star 7-foot sophomore center, was a preseason all-American and will be a sure-fire NBA first-round pick when he decides to leave college. That is a decision for another day. But at 3 p.m. Monday, Zeller and the fifth-ranked Hoosiers open Big Ten play against Iowa at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Indiana, which returned virtually its entire team from an NCAA Sweet 16 run a season ago and bolstered by freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, was ranked No. 1 until losing an overtime game to Butler Dec. 15.
Iowa, 11-2, is considered a Big Ten sleeper in Fran McCaffery’s third season as coach. A victory today would be a signature win for a team with NCAA dreams of its own.
“They recognize who we are playing and they recognize the challenge before us,” McCaffery said. “I think they feel good about themselves.”
Fifth-year Indiana coach Tom Crean, looking for his first victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, brings in the nation’s highest-scoring team at 89.4 points a game. The Hoosiers are second nationally in field-goal percentage at .520 and fourth in 3-point percentage at .421.
Zeller entered college after being named Indiana Mr. Basketball as a senior at Washington High School. His older brothers, Tyler and Luke, won the same honor, so following big footsteps has always been part of his basketball life.
Cody once grabbed 26 rebounds in a high school game, and was promptly put in his place.
“My dad said, ‘You’re not the le
ader in the family,’ because he had 30 in a game,” Zeller said. “That’s always his claim to fame.”
Cody’s dad, Steve, and his mom, Lorri, were high school sweethearts at Springville and both played basketball for the Orioles. Steve still holds the single-game rebound record, grabbing 30 against Starmont in 1980. Lorri, Eberhard’s sister, went on to play basketball and softball at Coe College. Steve graduated from Iowa State.
Zeller leads the Hoosiers in both scoring, at 16.4 points a game, and rebounding, at 7.9. He scored a career-high 26 points against Iowa last season in Bloomington.
“I didn’t think he had too many flaws last year,” McCaffery said. “I just think he’s a little bit older, a little bit smarter, a little bit better.”
Iowa freshman center Adam Woodbury has an inch on Zeller, but he’s short in Big Ten experience.
“Nobody outworks him every time he steps in the court,” Woodbury said of Zeller. “He’s playing as hard as he can, and it shows.”
Woodbury knows there will be ups and downs during his first trip through the Big Ten.
“I’m expecting them,” Woodbury said.
In Zeller, he’s facing the best from the get-go.
“There’s only one Cody Zeller,” Woodbury said. “But there’s only one Adam Woodbury, too. I have my own game. He has his.”
Monday's Iowa men's game
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TIPOFF: 3 p.m.
TICKETS: Sold out
RADIO: WHO-AM (1040) and Hawkeye Radio Network
ABOUT THE HOOSIERS: Indiana has lost five of the last six games to Iowa. The Hoosiers’ last victory in Iowa City came on Jan. 2, 2008, 79-76.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Iowa is shooting just 29.1 percent from 3 at home this season (50-of-172).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Indiana leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 42.1 percent. Iowa leads the Big Ten in 3-point percentage defense at 27.8 percent.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball