April 10, 2012

Coming back: Zeller, Watford decide to return

Freshman Cody Zeller and junior Christian Watford are both returning to Indiana.

Both players seriously investigated their professional options before making a decision that means all five starters will return from a team that won 27-games, reached the Sweet Sixteen and knocked off three top-five teams in the regular season.

While the 6-foot-11 Zeller was projected as a top-10 pick, his decision, announced this morning, was no surprise. NBA sources told Peegs.com throughout the process they hadn't heard anything suggesting Zeller was leaning toward leaving for professional basketball.

The 6-foot-9 Watford, on the other hand, was leaning toward leaving at one point, but as he fully evaluated the situation, he lifted off the gas and thoughtfully went through the process.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to complete my degree and to continue restoring the winning tradition at IU," Watford said. "I believe in coach (Tom) Crean and our staff and I am eager to lead my new teammates and build on what we started."

On Twitter, he added: "Thank you to all who supported my decision one way or the other but on another note lets hang banner 6!!"

Evaluations from the NBA also were a factor. According to NBA sources, the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee projected Watford would be a second-round pick, at best.

Watford scored a game-high 27 points in IU's 102-90 loss to eventual national champion Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. He had double-doubles in three of his final seven games. He averaged 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds.

"Christian really ended the season on a high note on the biggest stage and is building off that," Crean said. "He is going to have the opportunity to be a leader and have an even greater impact on the program and his game, but more importantly, he will earn his degree from IU."

Zeller was projected as a top-10 pick after leading IU in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (6.6) and shooting 62 percent from the floor.

"I grew up hoping that one day I would get the opportunity to play in the NBA, but at this point, I'm not ready for my college experience to be over," Zeller said. "Coach Crean and my family were very supportive and helpful as I made my decision.

"My college experience at IU this year has exceeded my expectations, on and off the court. I look forward to playing at Assembly Hall next year in front of the greatest fans in the country."

Zeller was a candidate for national player of the year awards as a freshman and will be among the early frontrunners as a sophomore.

"Cody is player who, along with his unique skillset, makes everyone around him better," Crean said. "He is going to have great opportunities ahead of him, yet his demeanor, work ethic and his desire to be a great teammate never wavers.

"He will have the opportunity to be as good as any player in college basketball."

With the nation's No. 2-ranked recruiting class coming in, plus the return of Watford and Zeller, it's possible the Hoosiers are No. 1 next year in the preseason polls. They already have been tabbed as the top team in unofficial preseason projections this month.

Beyond the preseason rankings, the return of Zeller and Watford put IU in position to win a sixth national championship.



 

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