College Basketball

Former UNC basketball standout Tyler Zeller learned stories from parents’ book

Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) defends his brother, Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) during  an NBA game in Boston, Jan. 5, 2015.
Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) defends his brother, Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) during an NBA game in Boston, Jan. 5, 2015. AP

Tyler Zeller’s jersey hangs in the rafters of the Dean E. Smith Center, but the spotlight was on his parents Tuesday morning at the UNC Basketball Museum.

Zeller, who helped the Tar Heels win the 2009 NCAA championship, and his parents held a book signing of “Raising Boys the Zeller Way,” which documents how Steve and Lorri Zeller raised three sons who earned the coveted title of Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana, finished at the top of their high school classes and eventually earned roster spots in the NBA. Zeller, now with the Boston Celtics, just completed his third season.

The middle child sandwiched between brothers Luke and Cody, Zeller said recalling his childhood stories growing up in Washington, Ind., with his family brought them closer together.

“It was actually really exciting. It was kind of fun reminiscing, and it’s really fun to be able to go through the book,” Zeller said. “I’ve actually read a couple of stories about my parents that I had never heard before. … There were (also) some stories about myself that I forgot.”

Steve and Lorri Zeller earned plenty of camera time during the 2011-12 college basketball season, when Tyler was a senior at UNC and Cody was a freshman at Indiana. The parents frequently wore a shirt split in half to represent their allegiances to the Hoosiers and Tar Heels. They decided to write a book about their experiences after repeatedly getting questions about their parenting techniques and lessons they learned.

“The biggest thing is that we’re not perfect parents,” Steve Zeller said. “Just little things like going to AAU tournaments and riding our oldest, Luke. We rode him hard. I tell the story (in the book) of him looking down at his shoes, we’re sitting in a parking lot, and he says ‘Was there anything I did right this weekend?’ We just tell the stories the way it is and the way it happened.”

Luke Zeller led the way, initially gaining fame in Indiana by hitting a half-court buzzer beater to win a state championship in 2005. After winning the coveted Mr. Basketball award, he played for Notre Dame and then 16 games for the Phoenix Suns in 2012-13.

Tyler, 25, followed a nearly identical path. He led Washington High to a state title and won Mr. Basketball as a senior. He then decided to leave Indiana and play college ball at UNC for Roy Williams. Taking the place of an injured Tyler Hansbrough in the first game of his freshman season, he quickly became a standout for the Tar Heels and was part of UNC’s most recent national championship team in 2009.

As a senior, Zeller averaged 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while shooting 55.3 percent while winning ACC Player of the Year honors. The 7-foot-1 center was drafted 17th overall in 2012 before playing two seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers and last season for the Celtics. Zeller seemed to find his footing in Boston, averaging 10.2 points and 5.7 rebounds as coach Brad Stevens’ starting center. He also made the playoffs for the first time.

“It is a job,” Zeller said. “You’ve got to play 82 games, you’ve got to be ready to play every night and you’re going up against grown men every night. In college, you might have a night or two where it’s a little easier, but in the NBA it’s tough every night.”

The Celtics drafted Louisville guard Terry Rozier and Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter in the first round last week and are expected to chase some of the biggest names in free agency, such as Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Zeller, who frequently returns to Chapel Hill to work out in the offseason, said he needs to continue to get quicker and stronger as he keeps his eye on the team’s summer acquisitions.

“I’m very excited for the free agency coming up – (there are) a lot of big-time free agents this year,” he said. “I’m excited to see who we get and what happens – it should be a great year next year.”