Today (Feb. 23), less than a week after this post, Zeller was named not only first-team Academic All-America but also the Academic All-American of the Year for basketball.
Tyler Zeller pulled an A-minus last semester in financial statement analysis. He was not happy.
Such are the standards when you’re an Academic All-American who aspires to a 4.0 GPA.
“It’s something I enjoy,” said Zeller, a 7-foot senior center at North Carolina. “The classroom is a competitive environment for me, too.”
One in which Zeller, the ACC’s No. 5 scorer and No. 3 rebounder, excels. He’s a business administration major with a 3.6 GPA and recently earned Academic All-District III honors from the College Sports Information Directors of America for the second consecutive year, a precursor for returning to the Academic All-American team.
Last season, Zeller received the Skip Prosser Award, presently annually to ACC basketball’s top scholar-athlete. Few coaches valued and preached education more than Prosser, who died of a heart attack in his Wake Forest office in 2007.
“A lot of these awards, you don’t really know what they mean,” Zeller said. “But when you win the Skip Prosser Award, it’s definitely a great honor to be recognized under (his) name and all the achievements he had.”
When Roy Williams recruited Zeller to North Carolina, he mentioned Academic All-American as a goal.
“I’m very proud of him,” Williams said when Zeller made the team last season. “He’s really happy about it. He said, ‘It just shows I'm a big nerd.’ …
“He's so good on the court, in addition to the classroom, you can't just put him in a little pigeonhole and say he fits because he is so versatile at everything he does.”
Like Clemson’s Smith and Duke’s Plumlee, Zeller credits his parents for instilling in him the thirst for knowledge and discipline of time management.
“God’s given me (intelligence), and I’m very thankful for that,” he said. “And growing up, my parents always taught me how to use my time. When I came home I had to get my homework done before I did other things. They did a great job of raising me.
“It definitely is challenging. Sometimes you’d rather go home after practice and hang out with friends, or you’re tired and just want to lay around and watch a movie or something. Instead you have to home and study, get your homework done and try to compete at a high level rather than just trying to get it done.
“If you’re good at time management, you can get it done and do it well.”
Zeller — “I love numbers and stuff like that” — interned last summer in Chapel Hill for Morgan Creek Capital Management. He’s a near-certain, first-round NBA draft choice, and after his professional basketball career envisions working in finance or in his native Indiana with his older brother Luke, a former Notre Dame starter who founded a non-profit basketball camp, DintiXion, that also teaches character and leadership.
“I have a lot of different options,” Zeller said.
A lighter academic load in this final semester is allowing Zeller, a leading candidate for ACC Player of the Year, more time for basketball, where a second national championship in his career would give him bragging rights over Jordan, Worthy, Montross, Hansbrough and other program icons.
“I’ve been able to come work out at nights, been able to get up extra shots because I have extra time,” Zeller said. “I don’t have to worry about schoolwork as much. I think I’m getting better. I’m one of those people, it takes a lot to satisfy me.”
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