Be nice to your little brother; you never know when he’ll grow to be 7-foot and become an instant millionaire.
Back in the eighth grade, Cody Zeller was 6-foot-5 and all of 155 pounds. He had two older brothers, Luke and Tyler, who watched out for him, including playing basketball against older kids.
Oldest of the siblings Luke, who played 16 games last season with the Phoenix Suns, used to demand that kid brother Cody be allowed to play point guard on his teams. That experience way back when could be valuable to the Bobcats as they look to turn Zeller, the No. 4 pick, into a “stretch four” – a power forward with the ability to shoot and distribute the ball from outside the lane.
“Through eighth grade I played point guard all the time,” Zeller said at morning shootaround before the Bobcats’ first summer-league game Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. “I was a little guy.”
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Little being a relative term. Zeller was tall, but slight. Getting to play with all those older kids, at his brothers’ insistence, toughened him up and prepared him to excel in high school and at Indiana once his body started filling out.
And though you didn’t see it at Indiana, where coach Tom Crean needed him in the post, Zeller retained those skills he learned as a guard. Bobcats associate head coach Patrick Ewing was struck during Zeller’s pre-draft workout how consistent Zeller was making NBA 3-pointers.
There was reason for surprise: In his two college seasons, Zeller attempted only two 3s and made neither.
“I didn’t shock myself. I’ve always been able to make the three,” Zeller said. “I don’t know what they were expecting. I didn’t show it much in college but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it.”
Coach Steve Clifford and his staff have talked a lot about putting Zeller in positions at the “elbow” – the meeting of the foul line and the lane – where he can help initiate the offense. Power forward Josh McRoberts, who the Bobcats re-signed Thursday, was a similar facilitator over the final 30 games last season.
“It’s been fun. Learning from new coaches is always fun for me,” Zeller said of the experimentation.
“It’s being more of a playmaker: A lot of elbow catches, a lot of drives. They’re giving me a lot of freedom to create plays for my teammates.”