Charlotte Hornets

Bobcats’ Zeller still learning, but already looks as if he belongs

Ramon Sessions remembers his first NBA exhibition game. A Milwaukee Buck, he was nervous.

“I was the 56th pick in the draft,” says Sessions, the Charlotte point guard who scored 17 points Tuesday. “So I was trying to show everything.”

Cody Zeller, whom the Bobcats selected with the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, did not have to. His debut against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday was understated.

“It’s like he’s been around for a while,” says Sessions, who will begin his seventh season. “He came and did what he had to do and didn’t try to do too much.”

Zeller, who started at power forward for the Bobcats, scored the game’s first basket 12 seconds in on a dunk off an offensive rebound.

He played 23 1/2 minutes, took seven field-goal attempts and scored nine points. He grabbed five rebounds, had two steals and blocked a shot.

Four of the rebounds were offensive. He also turned the ball over a team-high four times.

Zeller, who turned 21 Saturday, also made a few wrong turns. He was supposed to go that way. He went this way. He was supposed to be here. He was there. That’s what preseasson is for.

Were you nervous?

He was not.

“I’ve been playing basketball all my life,” Zeller says, standing on the concrete outside a locker room designed for middle school students, none of them tall. “Once you get out there you realize its basketball.”

Asheville did. Attendance at U.S. Cellular Center was 4,457, not bad for an opening exhibition on a Tuesday night. Fans loudly cheered the Bobcats against the Atlanta Hawks.

Alas, the Bobcats also needed a seventh man. The Hawks won 87-85.

The quality that stood out for the rookie was his speed. Zeller, who is 7-foot-0 and weighs 240 pounds, doesn’t run like a big man. He runs like a fast man. He runs without effort. He runs as if it’s what he’s supposed to do.

Zeller ran the court, grabbed a fast break feed from Gerald Henderson, hit the basket, hit the floor and hit the free throw.

Zeller also dropped a nice pass inside to Al Jefferson. It had to be nice because Jefferson had defenders around him. Jefferson quickly snapped a pass outside to Jeffery Taylor, who was open from 22 feet. Taylor hit the basket.

Defensively Zeller was challenged. He was matched against Paul Millsap, Atlanta’s prized free-agent acquisition. Millsap is 6-8, 253 pounds and smart.

Zeller is “playing against an all-star caliber guy who’s quick and tough,” says Charlotte coach Steve Clifford. “I think it’s a good first start. The more guys you can play against like that, the farther ahead you are come opening day.”

At Indiana, Zeller often guarded smaller men in practice. But in games the Hoosiers needed him to be a center.

“I don’t think that’s going to be too much of a challenge,” Zeller said.

Zeller collected a few cheers from fans who looked as if they were wearing Indiana garb.

You hear them?

“We’re everywhere,” Zeller says.