Cody Zeller is not a savior. Tell yourself that. He will not be Jared Sullinger and dominate the Big Ten next year. He won’t overpower defenses with his size and strength, won’t force double-team dilemmas that will leave good shooters such as Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford plenty of three-point looks.
Zeller is not a ready made NBA guy, a one-and-done player in the mold of Sullinger or even Eric Gordon. He has to build his strength and body, develop a warrior mindset. Figure that he will
He will arrive in Bloomington this summer with room to grow, which is as it should be. He will have significant impact, but do not expect him to carry the weight of Hoosier hopes that next season will be the dawn of Indiana’s return to glory. Yes, he’s a McDonald’s All-America, but he will need inside help, which leads to the obvious question -- where will it come from?
Tom Pritchard is the most logical candidate. He is 6-9 and 250 pounds and, when he doesn’t foul, is IU’s best inside defender. He will be a senior and, in essence, a four-year starter and that should count for something.
“Foul trouble hurt me all year in certain games,” he said. “The team needs me out there on defense. It’s something I always have to work on.”
Neither Derek Elston and Bobby Capobianco seems to be an inside answer. Elston has more of an all-around game that doesn’t lend itself to in-the-paint banging. Capobianco seems more suited for a Mid-American Conference team than a Big Ten power.
Both could transform themselves in the off-season into inside beasts. Will they? Logic suggests no, but sometimes will can overcome that.
“I have to stay away from injuries,” Elston said. “I’ve been battling knee injuries here and there, but everybody has dealt with something. We have to get bigger and stronger. We’ve got to battle. That’s all it comes down to. You have to want to get the ball down there. You’ve got to want to score. You’ve got to try hard to get better at different moves.”
And then Elston taps into the message coach Tom Crean has pushed since he arrived in Bloomington three years ago. He knew his early Hoosier teams would lack talent, but they could make up for it with non-talent factors, starting with toughness and effort and tenacity.
Next season IU will be among the Big Ten’s most veteran teams. Pritchard and Verdell Jones will be four-year starters. Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls will be three-year starters. Oft-injured Maurice Creek, if he can return to full health and stay there, offers impressive potential. Freshman Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey got invaluable experience this season because, Crean has said, they have uncommon work ethics.
The Hoosiers have to become more athletic (recruiting is key for that) and better rebounders and defenders. But in the end they have to play with uncommon passion and purpose. If they do, a winning record and NIT opportunity are possible, perhaps more given the Big Ten can’t possibly be as strong with so many good players graduating.
If they don’t, well, we’ve seen that before.
“We have to fight every day,” Elston said. “Everybody has to leave it on the line. We have to do it day in and day out to achieve what we want to achieve. We’ve got to fight.”
Ben Chappell will never remind anybody of, say, Michael Vick. He will never terrorize defenses with his speed. Still, now that the former Indiana quarterback is healthy after a beating of a season, he just might earn himself a shot on a NFL roster.
Chappell was among the players participating in IU’s pro day in front of around 14 NFL scouts. He was leaner (down to 224 pounds after a high of around 250) and far fitter. He’d spent the off-season working out in Arizona with Oakland Raiders quarterback Charlie Frye. Chappell needed off-season foot surgery to fix an injury that basically left him unable to condition last season. Still, he finished as the most accurate quarterback in school history.
His accuracy and intelligence (he was close to a 4.0 student) give him an edge. Is that enough for a team to take a shot at him? Perhaps. But as Jamarcus Russell and Vince Young have proven, superior athleticism isn’t enough to become a NFL quarterback.