Charlotte Bobcat Cody Zeller summed up his week in the NBA’s rookie transition program this way: There are a lot of people looking out for him.
That’s precisely the message the program’s overseer shoots for each fall.
“Our job is to develop trust and to be available to them 24 hours a day,” said Greg Taylor, the NBA’s senior vice president for player development. “That’s what gets them to pick up the phone when they need help.”
Not everyone got the message. Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad, who entered the NBA off one rocky season at UCLA, was sent home at the beginning of the week for violating a rule; he had a woman in his hotel room.
Social responsibility in all sorts of situations is what the rookie program is intended to address.
“It’s financial management, it’s relationship management. It’s media training, particularly with the new challenges in social media,” Taylor said of the week’s agenda.
Zeller said the highlight of the program was former NBA player Chris Herren speaking on his years of drug addiction. Herren had seven felonies on his record, all drug-related, including an arrest for possession of heroin.
“Chris Herren’s story was amazing,” Zeller said in a phone interview Friday. “I thought the program was great in that they were very candid about how people have messed up as rookies. And we all got a chance to develop relationships with people who can look out for us.”
Zeller, the fourth overall pick in June, found a place to live in Charlotte two weeks ago and is now buying furnishings. He joked on Twitter recently that his mother sent him to IKEA to start living like a grown-up.
The little bit of basketball Zeller has played so far as a Bobcat went exceedingly well. He was named to the all-tournament team at Las Vegas Summer League, after averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in four games.
New Bobcats coach Steve Clifford gave Zeller plenty of freedom to experiment offensively away from the basket. Zeller was pleasantly surprised how much NBA rules (defensive three-seconds and no-handchecking dribblers) opened up the lane for his drives.
“First time in a while it didn’t seem like there were six or seven guys waiting for me in the lane,” Zeller said.
The thing that came across most in Zeller’s Las Vegas performance was his remarkable speed and quickness for a 7-footer.
“It is unique,’’ Zeller said of how well his feet move. “People who play against me are always surprised the first time.”
“You have to have a third point guard – if your team is not organized in this league, you have no chance to play well,” Clifford said in July.