Zeller no hidden Jazz gem

Jun 3 2013 - 11:53pm



SALT LAKE CITY -- A 7-footer possessing the ability to run the basketball floor with athleticism and know-how, Indiana big man Cody Zeller is likely to be gone by the time the Utah Jazz pick 14th in this month's NBA draft.

But the second-team All-American came in for a workout Monday morning at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, joining former Utah Valley and Clearfield forward Nick Thompson.

Zeller and the 6-foot-9 Thompson competed against each other in front of a few key Jazz decision-makers, whose focus is centered on the June 27 draft.

They wanted to take a close look at Zeller, who is projected to be a top-10 pick. Officials said that while there's a chance the 20-year-old will be gone before the No. 14 pick, it's important to do be prepared for all scenarios.

Veteran player personnel director Walt Perrin said Zeller would be a "good fit" in Utah. In Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, the Jazz already have a couple of young bigs under contract, however, there always seems to be room for another 7-footer -- especially one as skilled as Zeller -- on an NBA roster.

Zeller, whose older brother, Tyler, was drafted No. 17 overall by Cleveland last year, is coming out after two seasons at Indiana. He likely could have been a lottery pick a year ago but he was determined to come back stronger and more aggressive, which he did.

"I just felt like I had enjoyed the college process enough," he said, explaining his decision to leave as a sophomore. "There's more room for improvement in the NBA. We had a great year this year. Obviously we would have liked to win the national championship but we had a great year and I think it's the best time for me right now."

He averaged 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 29 minutes per game last season.

Zeller's athleticism at last month's Chicago draft combine raised eyebrows.

"He's got other aspects of his game that are NBA ready," Perrin said. "I think his athleticism kind of surprised some of us at the combine -- how well his numbers were -- but his game, we knew before that. He's got some aspects that are already NBA ready."

Perrin said Jazz scouts had seen Zeller run the floor but were a bit surprised by high vertical leap and agility tests at the combine.

"(Those) were the numbers that were kind of more eye-popping than the three-quarters speed sprint," he said.

Monday's workout was Zeller's first individual showing. His next stop is Phoenix.

He said he didn't mind working out for the Jazz, even though they're not picking until 14.

"Weirder things have happened," he said.

The Jazz's predraft workouts are closed to the media but Perrin said Zeller and Thompson went for about 40 minutes.

It's rare to have just two players involved; normally the Jazz have at least six.

More workouts are expected later in the week.

Once they knew Zeller was coming in, the Jazz asked Thompson to join him.

"I grew up being a Jazz fan," Thompson said. "All my friends, family are super excited. This is such a cool experience. I'm really grateful they reached out to me and gave me an opportunity to be a part of something like this. I didn't think I was going to be here even a week ago. It's a real cool thing."

Thompson said he plans to move to Las Vegas to continue training this summer. He said his agent is currently working on opportunities to play in some foreign leagues.

After Clearfield, Thompson spent two seasons at Eastern Utah, then transferred to Oklahoma in 2010. Because of a coaching change, he left OU after only one season and transferred to Utah Valley, where he played for coach Dick Hunsaker.

Thompson averaged 10 points and 7.9 rebounds in 32 minutes a game last season.

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