Let the preseason No. 1 speculation officially begin for Indiana basketball.
The Hoosiers, widely expected to enter the 2012-13 season at or near the top of the polls, got huge news for their chances on that front as the university’s athletics department announced in a release that forwards Cody Zeller and Christian Watford would return for their sophomore and senior seasons, respectively, rather than declare for the NBA Draft.
Such was expected. I never thought Zeller would leave after one season of college basketball (although he could have been a lottery pick), and I didn’t get a hint of any current interest in Watford as a NBA prospect — his skill set is a bit lacking in areas and he isn’t being listed in any mock draft I see — so it’s not a surprise to see both guys announce their returns. It’s going to be truly fascinating to see this Indiana team next season. It will have the firepower to do great things.
This announcement does create one minor issue for the Hoosiers, though: They are oversigned by one scholarship heading into next season. Coach Tom Crean will have to show one guy the door to make enough room for his key returnees as well as for “The Movement” of 2012 signees.
Follow the jump for the release from Indiana University Athletics.
Watford, Zeller Will Be Back For Indiana Men’s Basketball
April 10, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Indiana University forward’s Christian Watford and Cody Zeller have announced that they will remain in school and play for the Hoosiers next season. Both players were a big part of leading IU to a 27-9 record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
Watford, who made the NCAA South Regional All Tournament team and is the leading returning scorer in the Big Ten with 1,287 points, has averaged 13.4 points in his career. He also averaged 5.8 rebounds and shot 43.7 percent from 3-point range. His game-winning 3-pointer against No. 1 Kentucky in December was the GEICO National Play of the Year. He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to complete my degree and to continue restoring the winning tradition at IU,” said Watford. “I believe in Coach Crean and our staff and I am eager to lead my new teammates and build on what we started.”
“Christian really ended the season on a high note on the biggest stage and is building off that,” said IU Coach Tom Crean. “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, who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and an honorable mention AP All-American, averaged a team-high 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds and shot 62.3 percent from the field (4th in the nation). He was Second Team All-Big Ten and a First Team Freshman All-American. He was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award (USBWA National Freshman of the Year) and was a candidate for the Wooden Award and Oscar Robertson Trophy.
“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,” said Zeller. “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. Go Hoosiers!”
“Cody is player who, along with his unique skillset, makes everyone around him better,” added Crean. “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.”
The Hoosiers have been chosen preseason No. 1 by Yahoo, CNNSI.com, NBC Sports, ESPN.com, and USA Today. They return all five starters from a team which finished the season ranked 13th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.