The Other Zeller Brother
In about six months, Indiana University forward Cody Zeller will probably be a top-five pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and about six months ago his older brother Tyler Zeller was also a first-round pick and now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We know both of those names because the Zeller brothers are extremely talented and, so far, extremely successful. But there’s another Zeller, Luke, who currently plays for the Phoenix Suns after spending a few years in Japan, Lithuania and the D-League. His road hasn’t been as easy as his younger siblings’, but that doesn’t mean he appreciates his NBA opportunity any less.
“I didn’t have the red carpet and flashing cameras,” Zeller said. “It was a long tough road, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Especially, he says, if his early career struggles could help his younger siblings have things go a little bit easier.
“I hope that my long road helped their road be easier,” Zeller said. “After my experiences, I would talk to them and tell them all the things I went through. Hopefully, they were able to use those from the beginning instead of having to go through them. I’m really happy for them. They’ve earned it.
“My parents said I was the pioneer, and somebody had to blaze the trail. If that means I have a tougher road for them to have an easier road, I have no problem with that. They are still my little brothers, even though they are really successful and doing well. I still want to look out for them as much as I can. Even if they don’t need the help, you are still looking out for them.”
Zeller claims that the family’s success is a result of parents who were a perfect blend of tough and supportive.
“Dad got boxing gloves out, punched on us,” Zeller said, chuckling. “But at the same time if Dad went into work at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and we wanted to shoot, we would go an hour before he went to work and he would wake up an hour earlier and go rebound for us.
“Mom was always supportive 110 percent, whether it was changing the diet to put weight on you when you are skinny and young or making healthy food. It was meals on the road or whatever it might be. She’s been incredible, and to have parents that are that supportive, especially in this day and age… they are not in it to be in the spotlight; they are in it to be there for us.”
He added, “People say, ‘How cool is it that you’ve done all this?’ My answer all year has been that it’s cool, but it’s just as cool as when I was in the fourth grade playing Y ball and Tyler was in the second grade playing Y ball.
“Cody said that when he was getting recruited and he was in the gym for his announcement and they said, ‘How has the pressure been?’ He said, ‘I don’t feel pressure. I’m just deciding where I’m going to school, and you guys and everybody else are just watching me.’ It’s the same for all of us; all that doesn’t matter for us because the family is most important. I think God is first, family is next and then we play basketball.”
It’s easy to miss Zeller at the end of that Phoenix bench, but the overwhelming success of his younger brothers hasn’t jaded him at all. He’s just proud of his family and elated for his opportunity, and when a guy brings that sort of positivity to a locker room, it’s not hard to guess what the Suns saw in him this past season to give him his first stab at the NBA.
Maybe he won’t last as long in this league as his brothers, but he helped get them here. Whatever his legacy may be on the court, he’ll always be the oldest sibling who “blazed the trail” for his little brothers. Cleveland and whatever team drafts Cody always will be grateful for that.