Cody Zeller is the center for the Charlotte Hornets. He’s spent the entirety of his NBA career here, after playing for the Indiana Hoosiers for two years before being drafted in the first round by the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2013. He and his two older brothers have all played in the NBA.
Here’s how the Hornets big man trains, competes and maximizes the off-season in our Queen City.
(1) What’s a typical game day like?
If we’re home, we usually have shoot-around in the morning. Even on the road, shoot-around is usually either at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m.We go through the scouting report, talk about some of our plays that we’ll run that night, and then talk about some of their favorite plays and player tendencies. It ends up being about an hour.
Once I leave, I shower, go home, get lunch, and usually take a nap, and relax in the afternoon and come back to the arena at about 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game.
Then we usually shoot on the court for about two hours before the game.
Then I lift weights for about 20 minutes. I eat another small meal, like a sandwich or something. And then I go to chapel 60 minutes before the game. Coach will talk to us around 35 minutes before the game. We take the court about 20 minutes before we play the game.
Afterward, I usually go out to eat with family in town or friends. I’m so wired after the game that most of the time I don’t go to bed before 2 in the morning. Usually we don’t have practice until 11 a.m. or noon after a game, so even though I don’t go bed til 2 a.m., I can still get eight hours of sleep.
(2) What about in the off-season? What are you doing then?
The off-season is much more laid back. I mean it’s seven months where every minute of my day is planned. So in the offseason, it’s our chance to get away, enjoy family or vacation.
Charlotte’s become home for me, though. So I’m here with the coaching staff, the trainers. I usually come in, do rehab or treatment for about an hour, lift weights for about an hour, on the court for about an hour. And I’m done here by noon or so.
(3) What’s your sleep schedule like? It plays an important role in your success.
You have to stay on top of your sleep and food because a lot of times you’ll have back to back games. The game gets over at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., and then it’s straight to the airport to go to the next city. Then we get into the next city by 1 or 2 in the morning.
With a back to back we’ll have usually a meeting at 11 a.m., and then I’ll go back and take my nap, get something to eat, gotta be at the arena at 4 p.m., and then game at 7 p.m.
I try to keep the same routine, otherwise it snowballs pretty quickly.
My rookie year it was a big learning curve for me, because I have a tough time keeping on weight. So, you know, you lose two pounds in a week. And then you lose four pounds, six pounds. And over the course of my rookie season, I lost 15 pounds. So that’s a big deal. I feel better when I weigh more. And a lot of that’s water weight from all the minutes played on the court. And some is just, they give us plenty of food, but it’s just eating as much as possible.
(4) What do you eat when you’re in-season?
They feed us well. They do a good job. If we just have a practice day, we get breakfast before practice and lunch after practice. We get food on the plane and food before the game. It’s salmon, chicken, pasta, stuff that will give us energy for a game.
(5) How tall are you and what size shoe do you wear?
I’m 6 feet 11 inches and wear a size 16 shoe.
(6) What is the best and worst thing about being really tall?
The best thing is I can see over crowds. If I go to a concert or something, I can see right over everybody. I’ll be the landmark when I’m with friends.
The worst thing is travel — planes, cars, everything else.
And also I can’t buy any clothes. Even to get a dress shirt I have to have it custom made. I just want a white, plain shirt, but I have to have it custom made for 150 bucks. There are only a couple spots that have XXL T-shirts. Banana Republic is good. Kevin Love is one of their big guys they endorse, and now Express endorses a handful of NBA guys, so they have extra tall stuff, but it’s not easy.
(7) How do you pass the time on the road?
That’s what a lot of people don’t know. There’s a lot of downtime. Obviously you’ve got the two or three hours of game at night, right? And practice in the morning. But even on a practice day we’ll be done by 2 p.m. or so. So the rest of the night is free. Especially when we’re on the road, it’s lot of time in the hotel room resting up for the next game.
I end up watching a lot of movies. My first few years in the league I was finishing my degree. I left two years early from college, so that was kind of my chance, one night a week I’d spent in the hotel room knocking out my school work. It was actually the perfect opportunity for that. But other than that, try to keep in touch with friends. I’m on my phone a lot. Somehow I find a way to kill time. I take a lot of naps (laughs).
(8) When you’re on the line shooting free throws, what’s going through your mind?
I don’t think of much. I mean, I’ve shot so many free throws in my life that….yeah, I don’t think of much.
(9) What professional athlete or celebrity encounter would leave you starstruck?
I grew up as a Peyton Manning fan. He was my childhood hero.
I always wanted to be a football player and unfortunately I didn’t achieve my dreams. But yeah, I love his sense of humor. He seems really cool. He just seems like a class act. He obviously played for the Colts for so long, and I grew up idolizing him, and somehow we’ve never crossed paths. Meeting him is on my on my bucket list.
(10) What did you do with your first paycheck as a professional athlete?
Oh, man. I don’t know. I didn’t do anything crazy. I bought a California King bed. Back to the things that are tough about being tall. I always had a Queen bed, and I had to sleep sideways. So I was like, “I think I’m going to buy a California King bed that I can fit in.”
(11) How do you handle people who talk smack to you on social media after a tough game?
I think it’s kind of funny. I think most of the time, it’s people that wouldn’t ever say it to my face, right? It actually bothers my mom more than anyone. My mom, after a bad game or especially in college, she’ll be like, “Yeah, you probably shouldn’t get on Twitter.” I’m like, “Mom, have you gotten on Twitter?” Because I can handle it. I don’t really care. I know there are more games to play. You’re going to have your ups and downs.
I get on my mom sometimes, I’m like, “Mom, why are you on Twitter? Get off!” She doesn’t even have her own Twitter, but we have a basketball camp, so sometimes she’ll get on the company Twitter and search “Cody Zeller” after games and I’m like, “Why are you doing that!?”
Basketball is everything in Indiana, so the basketball players are always in the spotlight. But in college, she’d get on Twitter and then I’d call her and she’d be like, “What’d you get at Subway this afternoon? I saw you were at Best Buy!” It was all people tweeting, “I’m standing next to Cody at line in Subway.” She could follow my whole day just by people being on Twitter.
(12) What’s the number one misconception about pro basketball players?
All athletes get grouped together in a stereotype because of a few bad apples. Everyone has heard the horror stories about guys who blow all of their money or cheat on their significant other or fail drug tests. In my experience, that’s just a small portion of the NBA. Everyone else is a good person and a law-abiding citizen.
Especially the six years I’ve been in Charlotte, we have so many good guys and they’ve done a great job of building the right culture. We have good, solid dudes who are fun to be around and a lot of guys that I’ll be friends with long after my basketball career is over. So that’s for sure a misconception.
Also, I think athletes are put on a pedestal by the media and fans, but we’re all regular people. We may be giant human beings and we’re on TV more than most people, but away from the court we’re pretty normal people. Even from this interview I hope people can see that we like the same restaurants, watch the same movies and TV shows and have similar interests.
(13) What’s an everyday thing you’re really good at?
I played tennis in high school, so I still play sometimes in the summer. I’m also an Excel nerd. I make Excel sheets for everything. My brothers will send me stuff and be like, “Can you make me an Excel sheet?”
(14) What’s one skill they should teach you in high school that they don’t?
How to manage your money. That’s not even because I’m an NBA player, that’s just any normal person. I had no idea how to pay taxes or how to manage a budget or anything else. How to sign a lease for an apartment. All that stuff.
(15) What are some of your favorite Charlotte spots?
I love food. I love going out to eat. I love Midwood Smokehouse. Cowfish. RuRu’s is right around the corner from my house. Red Rocks. I just found out about Red Rocks like a year ago — I’m there way too often.
I’ve never been to Carowinds. I had plans of going there my rookie year, and I looked it up and all the roller coasters you have to be 6 feet 8 inches or under. I had such a small window of my life where I was tall enough to ride the rides but not too tall.
I love the Charlotte Knights, I love going to those games. I was living in the Vue my first four years, so I’d walk to the games all the time.
(16) What could the world use more of?
Nice people. People that are willing to listen to others. I’m a Christian, I’m faithful to the people I love, my family. But if you come from a different background, if you’re a different race or a different religion, I’m not saying my way is right. I love hearing from other people who come from different backgrounds. The world needs more people who are willing to listen to how others came up or what they believe in. There’s so much hostility because no one’s willing to budge on what they believe in.
(17) What’s your favorite side project or hobby?
I love board games. Recently my mom got Ticket To Ride. Our whole family plays a lot of board games, and we’ve all played it non-stop since then. Any time we get together we play cards, Ticket To Ride, we play tons of games.
(18) What’s your worst habit?
I’m not the best texter. I’ve been known to either reply to texts in five seconds or five days but nothing in between.
No hard feelings if I don’t text back or if I reply a week later. I do it to everyone! I’m trying to get better though.
(19) What’s your favorite thing about living in Charlotte?
I’ve been here six years now, so I have plenty of friends and a lot of people that make it feel like home. I’ve been fortunate to be here my whole career. There’s a lot of friendly people.
And when I moved here, I’m from a town of 12,000, so moving to Charlotte was intimidating. But once you move here, traffic’s not too bad, the people are nice. I love the restaurants.
(20) As a professional athlete, is it hard to make authentic friendships with new people?
Yeah, very much so. And even besides checking people’s intentions, also my schedule just makes it tough. We’re on the road so much, and even now in the summer I’m in town but other people have jobs. I’m done at noon and I want to hang out and they’re like, “Yeah, I’m off work at 6,” (laughs). It definitely took plenty of time. You want to surround yourself with good people. That’s something I focus on, especially when I first moved to town.
(21) What’s your favorite purchase under $100?
My iPhone battery case. I’m always on my phone texting, calling and FaceTiming. My phone battery would only last until about 5 p.m. until I bought a battery case. I never have to worry about my phone dying anymore.
(22) If someone sees you out and about around Charlotte, what’s the best way to proceed?
I love being a normal person. I think that what I do is no more important than what you do. So once I leave the arena, I just try to be a normal person. I don’t get the hoopla of taking a picture. I don’t mind. I try to be friendly. If you want to come up and say hi, I’ll chit-chat.
The thing is, it’s tough to hide when you’re 7 feet tall.
Even if they don’t know that I play for the Hornets, they’ll be like, “He has to play something. He’s not just that tall.”