SI.com recently caught up with Hornets third-year forward Cody Zeller, who traveled to Gran Canaria, Spain last month for the NBA’s first Basketball Without Borders camp in the city. Players from 25 different countries attended the camp to receive advice from Zeller and other NBA players and coaches. Zeller discussed the trip overseas, the NBA's future in Europe and more.
SI.com: How did you first get involved with Basketball Without Borders?
Cody Zeller: "It came out of the blue last year. This was my second year helping out. They went through my agency and asked if I’d be interested. Last year we went to Taiwan and it was a lot of fun to go over there with a great group of guys. It really is an awesome opportunity to see the world, but also to get a look at some of the best rising players in the world. We saw European players (this year) who were 15, 16, 17 years old. It takes you back to those days and reminds you what it’s like when you’re trying to achieve your NBA dream. It’s be tun be on the flip side and try and help players go through what I went through."
SI.com: Had you been outside of the country much prior to these trips?
Zeller: “Not at all. I hadn’t been out of the country once until I made it to the NBA. It has definitely been fun. We’re going to play preseason games in China this year. The NBA has definitely opened a lot of doors for me.”
SI.com: What’s it like chatting with campers during these trips? What do they want to talk about?
Zeller: “There was a pretty big language barrier in Asia, but a lot of the kids here in Europe speak at least a bit of English. It’s not too hard to relate to them, so we get along pretty well. They want to hear about the NBA and what it’s like playing in the top league. They love all of my stories about Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. When I was there age, I loved those stories, too.”
SI.com: Do they ask you a lot about (Hornets owner) Michael Jordan?
Zeller: "Not a whole lot, they might be too young to be fans. The other fun part about the trip is to see who they do love. Ricky Rubio is obviously huge over here, everyone loves him. Marc and Pau Gasol are both from Spain and are treated like heroes, too."
SI.com: What’s it like having a trip like this during the off-season? Does it mess up your routine?
Zeller: “I’m still able to work out, but it is nice to get away from everything a bit. I’m still recovering from shoulder surgery, so I’m not doing a ton of on-the-court work. Mostly weight and strength training.”
SI.com: What’s been the best part of the trip so far?
Zeller: “Getting to hang out with a different group of people. There’s a couple of current NBA players on the trip, a handful of former ones. It’s fun to hang out with these guys off the floor in a non-basketball setting. I’ve gotten to know a few assistant coaches and also logged some good time with Gerald Henderson, my teammate on the Hornets. It’s a good bonding experience to go overseas with someone, get dinner every night with them. You get to know someone a lot better.”
SI.com: How many future NBA players have you seen in the camp?
Zeller: “There are definitely 2-3 guys that have a chance of playing in the NBA if they keep working hard. I know almost 40 players have come through the BWB program and made it to the NBA, which is pretty cool. It’s great to do a little early scouting, too.”
SI.com: Do you think there will be an NBA team in Europe one day? Would it make sense?
Zeller: “I think it’d be great for the game, but logistics-wise, I can’t see how it would work. It was an eight-hour flight over here and we had a five-hour layover, I think it was total around 20 hours of travel time. Realistically, that could be too much. Most of our flights in and out of Charlotte are an hour or two. I think it would be great for the game and we’re definitely taking steps forward with the preseason.”