By LARRY VAUGHT
Las Vegas center Stephen Zimmerman is one of the top players in the 2015 recruiting class, but he knows that means absolutely nothing during the USA Basketball under 18 national team tryout this week in Colorado Springs.
“Obviously, it’s a huge honor just to be here and it is a real blessing to be here with all the great players representing your country,” said Zimmerman during a telephone interview after one of the team’s workouts. “Coming here and not being used to this elevation is hard, but it is all fun.
“It’s a test to play with the best and a huge honor to play for your country. Obviously, when you line up with all these great players, it’s fun to play with and against them. And a chance to represent your country is great. I’ve always dreamed of playing in the Olympics. That’s every kid’s dream and hopefully this will help me make a name.
“It would mean so much to me to make the team and be able to represent my country and play with great kids and coaches. It’s a win-win for me, but you have no choice but to raise your game playing with all these great players. Nothing is guaranteed to anyone. We all want to go to the NBA, win gold medals and make money. Everyone is playing their hardest.”
The 7-foot center recently narrowed his college list to Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, UCLA and UNLV. He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game last season and is playing with the Oakland Soldiers in the Nike EYBL this summer after playing with adidas-sponsored Dream Vision previously.
Zimmerman has announced that he will visit Kentucky for Big Blue Madness in October.
“I like coach Cal (John Calipari) a lot. They have a winning school and they fit my style of running and I hope to be able to see more on my visit,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman says he exchanges text messages with Calipari but has not talked to him “in a little bit” partially because of the hip surgery Calipari had.
“He does talk to my mother a lot,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman has not set schedule to make his college choice, partially because he’s staying so busy now.
“I will make a decision when I feel it is right. I will take visits hopefully in October and September to see some schools and then we will see what happens,” Zimmerman said.
He’s getting a chance to play this week to learn about college coaching. Florida’s Billy Donovan is the team’s head coach and Ed Cooley of Providence, Sean Miller of Arizona and Danny Manning of Wake Forest are the assistant coaches.
“It’s really cool to see how coaching will be at the next level and see some coaches on my list (of colleges) and see what their coaching style is like,” Zimmerman said. “This is big business being here, but it is also fun to get away from recruiting a bit and not have to worry about it all the time and just realize I am playing for the USA.
“I started getting really ready for this about two weeks ago doing two a day workouts. I ran a lot to get use to the altitude. I work on my skills every day and didn’t really have to do anything special there. I know the coaches are going to go off who gives the most effort. We are all capable of making it, so the coaches are going to be looking for who will be great teammates and not complain about playing time. I am not sure being able to run the floor is a skill, but I think that will help me out a lot.”
Zimmerman says he doesn’t spend much time talking recruiting with his USA teammates.
“This is a time to get away and just be kids.I don’t get to do that a lot,” Zimmerman said. “I know most of the guys and that does make this easier. I have played with and against a lot of them, but only 12 out of 23 will make the team. But I love bsketball, love playing and love being here with all these great players. It’s a chance for me to get better and then hopefully represent my country, too.”