Cody Zeller Reflects on First NBA Encounter with Older Brother Tyler

by Sam Perley

Tomorrow night, rookie LaMelo Ball will face off against his older brother Lonzo for the first time on an NBA hardwood when the Hornets take on the New Orleans Pelicans down in the Big Easy. Over seven years ago, teammate Cody Zeller went through the exact same experience against his older brother, Tyler, then a second-year Cleveland Cavaliers center.

The Zeller brothers first played against each other in a regular season game on Nov. 1, 2013, which was just Cody’s second in the NBA and first in front of the hometown Charlotte crowd. He finished with nine points and five rebounds as Charlotte won its home opener with 90-84 victory over the visiting Cavaliers.

“It’s pretty unique because we don’t get to see each other a whole lot during the year,” said Zeller. “The night before, we can usually catch up and get dinner. That was always really fun, but to play on the court, that’s always a little bit different. Obviously, I want the best for him and want him to play well, but for a couple nights a year, you have to push that aside and say, ‘Alright, let’s go at it for a couple hours.’ I think it’s really cool for my parents and my family to see us both out there as well.”

Zeller adds that the brother element usually evaporates shortly after tipoff, particularly with neither big man ever in a situation where he’d be going eye-to-eye against the other. “Neither one of us are really one-on-one, isolation players,” he added. “It’s not like we’re playing one-on-one in the driveway. It’s very much a team game and both of us are role players. Once the game starts, it wasn’t too different.”

Drafted 17th overall out of North Carolina in 2012, Tyler has played for seven teams over his now eight-year NBA career and most recently was in training camp with the San Antonio Spurs last month. The oldest Zeller brother, Luke, graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 and played professionally in Japan, Lithuania, the G League and with the Phoenix Suns for 16 games in 2012-13, although never crossed paths with Cody in the NBA.

To date, the Balls are the only brothers to both be top-3 picks in the NBA Draft after Lonzo went second overall to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017. When asked about the prospect of facing his brother shortly after he was drafted two months ago, LaMelo responded modestly, “Pretty much every game I go against, I just go out there and try my best. I don’t really lock on the personnel and stuff like that.”

Charlotte’s Ball is off to a strong start this season with averages of 12.1 points on 41% shooting, 5.1 rebounds and NBA rookie-leading marks of 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals. And this might not be the last inaugural brother-versus-brother NBA showdown for the Hornets this year either. Next month, Jalen McDaniels also has the chance to play for the first time at the NBA level against his younger brother, Jaden, who just started his rookie season in Minnesota.

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