With World Cup Qualifying Role, Tyler Zeller Has Bragging Rights Over Brothers
Zeller is the first in his basketball-crazy family to play on a USA World Cup Qualifying Team.
There isn’t much separating the Zeller brothers when it comes to their accomplishments on the basketball court.
Luke, Tyler and Cody each won Indiana state titles in high school and were named Mr. Basketball as the state’s top player. Each went on to play for major programs in college, and each has had an opportunity to play in the NBA.
After these past few weeks, Tyler Zeller can now definitively lay claim to doing something his siblings have not: representing his country on the basketball court in international competition, which Zeller recently did as a member of the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team.
Zeller played in The USA's two games against Argentina and Uruguay, helping the team coached by Jeff Van Gundy secure a berth in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, taking place Aug. 31-Sept.15 in China.
“It’s one thing I can say I’ve done that (my brothers) haven’t,” said Zeller, 28.
The 7-foot center played 20 minutes of an 80-63 loss on the road to Argentina on Nov. 29, scoring two points and grabbing team-high 12 rebounds. Three days later he saw 12 minutes of action with four points and two rebounds in the berth-clinching 78-70 win over Uruguay in a game played in Montevideo.
There is one remaining FIBA World Cup Qualifying window in February, and it remains to be seen which players USA Basketball will invite back to the roster for games Feb. 22 against Panama and Feb. 25 against Argentina in the Fieldhouse at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, N.C.
Zeller is hoping to be back on an NBA roster by that point. The former first-round pick out of the University of North Carolina was waived by Milwaukee during the preseason and had played previously in 406 NBA Regular season games since the 2012-13 season, including stints Boston, Brooklyn, Cleveland and Milwaukee. He said when USA Basketball called him in November and invited him to participate in World Cup qualifying, it was a no-brainer decision for him to accept.
“It means a lot,” Zeller said. “It’s the first time I’ve been available to do this or good enough to do it. And playing against two of the better teams in the world. I’d be excited just to be able to do that and be able to represent our country in that way. It’s a great opportunity to be able to play basketball and do what I love and be able to represent our country.”
While he is the first in his family to actually play in international games for USA Basketball, his younger brother, Cody, was named to the 2014 USA Basketball Select Team that trained with the 2014 USA National Team in advance of it participating in the FIBA World Cup. Cody is now in his sixth year as a center for the Charlotte Hornets.
Their older brother, Luke, was a 2005 McDonald’s All-America who play in the USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in 2004 and went on to play at Notre Dame and briefly for the Phoenix Suns.
At 28, Tyler Zeller was one of the older players on the World Cup Qualifying Team. The team and coaches were only together for a short period of time before going their separate ways again after the window concluded. It can be difficult for everyone to settle into defined roles beyond players and coaches.
However, being a little older and more seasoned allowed him to at least feel comfortable trying to provide some leadership in key moments.
“Obviously, we get on each other to be as good as we can be, but at the same time, we just got to go out and compete together,” Zeller said.
Traveling overseas to play for USA Basketball usually leads players and coaches to being exposed to new cultures, traditions and environments. The team was only in Argentina for a few days, but Zeller was struck by how there was pasta and French fries on the table at every meal they ate together.
He said he wasn’t sure whether those options were chosen for the Americans because the locals believed it is what they would want or if it is more customary. He laughed about having French fries for breakfast.
Zeller said he wasn’t exactly expecting a call from USA Basketball when one came this fall, and he doesn’t have any expectations going forward. He said he would love to represent his country again in the future. He takes pride in helping the U.S. qualify for the World Cup.
“To know that we were a part of the bigger picture is always a good thing, but most of all it’s fun to compete at such as high level and play against a talented team,” he said.