Another Angle — Cody Zeller, a man of mischief

Who is Cody Zeller?

What’s behind the even-keeled Indiana University freshman who acts the same whether he’s the victim of a bad call or catalyst behind a highlight jam—who would probably show the same seemingly emotionless stare whether he was swimming in a pool of crocodiles or a pool of swimsuit models?

With the help of his oldest brother, Luke, who plays in the NBA D-League for the Austin Toros, we’ve learned what lies behind Tom Crean’s prize recruit who has helped lead IU to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2002. The answer is simple.

A mischievous grin…

The Sprayer

Everything starts somewhere. A plant with a seed. A building with a brick. The proclamation that Indiana University basketball had returned with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Kentucky. (Just saying.)

Cody’s pranking career arguably began with “The Sprayer.”

Rubber band + kitchen sink sprayer + turning the faucet on = wet face.

Gotcha.

A Cody Christmas

Gift No. 1: Dating Survival Kit

Right when Luke started dating his wife, Hope, Cody created a “Dating Survival Kit” for his brother.  “He’s really creative with his Christmas gifts,” Luke laughs.

In the kit were three types of mouthwash, deodorant, cologne, and most importantly, a note from Cody reading: “If all else fails, call me, and I’ll help you out.”

“He was a sophomore in high school,” Luke laughs. “He had never even dated a girl.”

Gift No. 2: Welcome to the Family

It’s one thing to do the box-inside-a-box-inside-a-box trick, but it’s another to do it to your brother’s girlfriend during her first Christmas with the family.

As she fumbled through each box, Luke remembers thinking, “Okay, let’s get on with it.” She eventually opened the last box and found…nothing.

“This is terrible,” she joked. “This is all you got me?”

She eventually found money taped to the back of the smallest box.

Miracle she stuck around.

Gift No. 3: December Taxes

As much of a headache Cody’s gift was for Hope, at least he gave her a thoughtful amount of money. Luke, on the other hand, received a whopping $3.27 from Cody one Christmas.

And of course, there was a note to go along with it, reading something like: “Christmas gift: $200; Federal tax: 2.5%, Income tax: 2.4%, Sales tax: 2.0%, Social Security tax: 1.5%, Luke getting married tax: 90%.”

That comes to 98.4 percent in taxes. $3.27(ish) remaining.

Maybe enough for a gallon of milk?

Log Out or Pay the Price

NEVER forget to log off Facebook.

When his mother made the mistake, Cody made her pay, updating her status to read: “I’m so thankful for my boys, especially Tyler because he’s adopted.”

Then he watched her phone explode with confounded text messages.

“I may have had something to do with that one,” Luke smirks.

Really, people? You think the Zellers just happened to adopt someone who is as tall as his two brothers…who looks practically identical…who is also good at basketball?

“People really believed it,” Luke laughs. “For some people, Facebook is their only perception of you.”

License to Panic

On Luke and Hope’s wedding day, Cody managed to get his hands on Luke’s wallet and hide his license behind his insurance card. Pretty harmless.

Following their wedding night, however, Luke and Hope were supposed to meet their families for brunch that morning.

The problem was that Luke couldn’t get his car out of valet parking. He thought he lost his license.

“I knew immediately it was him,” Luke recalls.

The newlyweds eventually made it, but they were considerably late.

And you know what everyone was thinking…

Hoping to Bathe?

When three people in your household are practically on stilts, some of life’s small tasks, like bathing, become more complicated.

So what did parents Steve and Lorri Zeller do? They got an adjustable showerhead for their sons’ bathroom.

“We no longer had to feel like we were the hunchback of Notre Dame,” says Luke, who played four years for the Fighting Irish.

When Luke and Hope return to the Zeller household, Cody positions the shower head so the water flies over Hope—who is only 5 feet, 2 inches tall.

Columnist’s note: Personally, I would feel bad for Hope. Many of the pranks in this column oddly involve her. However, I recently discovered she went to Bethel College, which, if you’re familiar with NAIA Division II basketball in northern Indiana (I’m sure most of you are), you’ll know that their nemesis is Grace College.

I graduated from Grace. She deserves everything…and more.

Death Row Applicant

When Luke isn’t playing professional basketball, he’s managing his basketball ministry “Distinxion,” one of his biggest passions in life.

Anyway, at the beginning of Cody’s spring semester at IU, he decided to fill out a volunteer form for Luke’s ministry. But instead of using his own name for the application, Luke believes Cody spent three to four hours conducting research.

The name Cody chose was an inmate at the state penitentiary who happens to be on death row. For the sake of storytelling, we’ll call him Kelvin Sampson. And in the reference section, Cody put the penitentiary’s phone number.

While other students are out on Friday evenings making IU one of the top-20 party schools in the nation, Cody is delving into the life story of a convicted felon.

“He puts a lot of work into these,” Luke laughs.

The goal of the prank? Imagine this:

Luke: “Hi, I just had a couple questions.”

State penitentiary: “Yeah, how can I help you?”

Luke: “I’m thinking about hiring someone by the name of Mr. Sampson, and he listed you as a reference. I wanted to ask you about him.”

State penitentiary: “First name?”

Luke: “Kelvin.”

State penitentiary: “Uh…”

Luke: “Yes?”

State penitentiary: “Sir, this is the state penitentiary. Kelvin Sampson is on death row. He murdered 53 people in the 1960’s. Wouldn’t recommend hiring him.”

Fortunately for Luke, he caught it. (And no, Kelvin Sampson, the much despised former IU coach, didn’t kill anyone, but because of his numerous NCAA violations, he did kill a basketball program—one that Tom Crean has brought back to life.)

“He (Cody) can get away with it,” Luke says. “It’s part of being the youngest. He’d love to be able to tell you it was his idea…but he won’t tell you until three months later. He just likes pulling pranks and smirking.”

Indiana University will need Cody’s creativity on Friday night—as they look to take down one-seeded Kentucky for the second time this season and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in a decade.

Unlikely, perhaps. But who knows?

Hoosier nation could use an early Christmas gift.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

Read a four-page feature about Cody’s faith in the Spring 2012 issue of Sports Spectrum. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.