Cody Zeller: What it's like being an NBA rookie
What's life like as an NBA rookie? That's what we asked Cody Zeller, who was drafted No. 4 overall out of Indiana University by the Charlotte Bobcats last spring. The 21-year-old former Hoosier is just 15 games into his career as a Bobcat, but he's already seen a lot: from LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony on the floor to Michael Jordan off it. In the first installment of his rookie diary for SI.com, Zeller dishes on his first impressions of the NBA.
I have a ton of free time. It surprises most people. It's both good and bad. On practice days, we practice in the morning, lift weights, practice for an hour or two, shoot around, and then I'll be home by 2 or 3 p.m. and be done for the day. It's a nice schedule.
The toughest part for me has been moving to a new city. I'm from a small town (Washington, Ind.) so I wasn't about living in a huge city, so Charlotte was just right. I've never lived in a city, so things are pretty different. I'm not around that much so it's hard to go out and meet new people. In college, I was surrounded by literally thousands of kids my age. But in my apartment building it's all businessmen and stuff, not exactly a bunch of guys I want to hang out with.
I miss Indiana. I miss being on campus and hanging with all my college buddies. I left after two years, so all my classmates are still back at school. It's not like being a normal student where you graduate with all of your friends.
When you're in the NBA, everyone wants to be your friend. Right now, it's pretty tough to figure out who has the right intentions. When you meet people through mutual friends or church, that's one thing, but this is different.
I've probably seen Michael Jordan 3-4 times since being drafted. He was at our training camp all week before the season. It's funny because when he's around us he acts like one of the players. He's talking about the game and whatever. It was fun at camp because he was staying in our hotel with us. It was crazy to watch all the stuff you have to do because you're Michael Jordan. He can't go to a restaurant and eat. He has to have someone go pick it up and bring it back to the hotel. He was locked in his room a lot of the time and couldn't go to dinner with the rest of us.
In the NBA you go against the best players in the world ... every night. Even in college you'd play some good players once week and some not-so-good players the next, but here you face the best 3-4 times a week. If you play bad one night, you have Kevin Garnett the next night.
I haven't faced too much trash talking on the floor. As a rookie, it comes with the territory. Everyone is going to try and test you out. A lot of opponents know I'm new to the game and know that I don't know all the tricks yet. I get a lot of isolations and clear outs.
I don't mind it too much. The veterans have been helping me out since training camp, and I'm prepared every night. I've had a few months of trying to get adjusted. Obviously, they've gotten me a few times, but I think I'm doing okay.
I haven't really had a "Welcome to the NBA" moment. The way it's setup, you kind of ease into the season. In summer league, you play teams that have 3-4 really good guys. In preseason, you get a taste of what it's like -- and then the regular season gets going, and you get it all. It's not like you go from playing nobody to the best of the best.
The coolest thing I've done so far is play at Madison Square Garden. The first time was pretty awesome. Playing against the Knicks and against Carmelo Anthony, it was probably the first time where I took a step back and said, 'Whoa, this is pretty cool.'
It's crazy playing against guys you watched growing up. I played LeBron James in my second game of the preseason. Played KG a couple of nights ago, played the Bulls before that. Going to all of these different arenas and facing all these players I've watched on TV has been pretty surreal.
As told to Matt Dollinger of SI.com.