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By LARRY VAUGHT
Stephen Zimmerman didn’t start playing basketball until he was 11 years old because he preferred “being a kid and doing whatever and running around” rather than playing an organized sport. However, once Zimmerman did start playing basketball, it became obvious he was a special talent.
“My parents finally put me on a team when I was 11 to give me something to do with my extra time,” said Zimmerman, now a 7-0 junior center at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. “At first, it was just something to do. But the team I was on was good and went to nationals and got sixth place. I ended up being pretty good and once I started playing, I loved going in the gym and playing. We were all friends on and off the court. We would play every Saturday. I would actually cry when I did not have a game on Saturday.”
He doesn’t have to cry any more because he’ll always have a game since the nation’s best college programs are heavily recruiting him. He’s a consensus top five player in the 2015 recruiting class and has offers from schools such as Kentucky, Louisville, UNLV, UCLA, Kansas, Connecticut, Arizona, Oregon, Duke, Oregon State, Memphis, UTEP , Auburn, Florida State, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Zimmerman helped lead his team to a 29-3 record and a second straight Nevada 4A title as a sophomore. In the state final, Zimmerman had 18 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. He followed that with an impressive summer on the national camp circuit.
“All the recruiting has been really fun actually. It is pretty crazy and stuff at times, but my parents help me and talk to coaches and take calls,” he said. “It’s not as hard on me. Having all these coaches and schools wanting me is an honor and blessing.”
Zimmerman laughed when asked how he keeps from letting the attention alter his personality.
“I guess it is just part of me that I don’t think too much about it,” Zimmerman, 17, said. “Basketball is a game I love, so I just play. I have been meeting with coaches lately and talking and listening a lot. That will go on a bit longer. Once my school season starts, I will focus on that. After that, I will take some more unofficial visits and start thinking about where I’ll play in college.”
Zimmerman recently met with Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“It was a huge honor to have him come. I liked what he had to say. He made a good impression on my parents as well. The main thing that he was saying is that he hopes that I want to be a part of Kentucky as much as they want me to be a part of Kentucky,” Zimmerman said. “He is such a down to earth guy. He really knows what he is doing, too.”
Zimmerman has paid attention to how Calipari has turned Patrick Patterson, Demarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel into first-round draft picks and even got Josh Harrellson developed to the point that he’s in the NBA.
“Coach Calipari is great with big guys,” Zimmerman said. “A big thing I will be looking for is how can a coach help me get to where I perform my best and get the best out of my ability. That’s a big thing. What he does with big men is really something special. My goal is to get to the NBA and I’ll go wherever I think will help me the most when it comes to reaching my dream.
“Coach Calipari really didn’t explain a lot about how he thought I would fit in. His main thing was just me wanting them as much as they want me. He said if I come to Kentucky, he is sure it would be a great fit and I would go No. 1, or at least in the top three, in the (NBA) draft. So Kentucky is a definite option for me. It’s an amazing place with a great history and great coach. I definitely plan on taking a visit there.”
Some college recruiting analysts believe Zimmerman could turn into the No. 1 player in the 2015 class because he can score in a variety of ways from back-to-the-basket moves to making shots from the perimeter. He has also impressed recruiting analysts with his ability to pass out of double-teams.
Zimmerman says once he takes more unofficial visits, he will get a better “feel” for where he might want to go to college. He’ll also be looking at who future teammates might be, too.
“I am going to be looking for people who want to win as badly as I do and will do what is needed to win,” Zimmerman said. “It’s still a little bit too early to even be thinking about cutting down my list (of schools). Probably by the end of the school year, I will have to cut it to a better number to manage.”
He’s not worried about the spotlight from coaches, analysts and media bothering him.
“I don’t think there is ever pressure on me. I am doing what I love. Whatever comes with it, comes with it,” he said. “And so far, a lot has come with it. But I am doing what I love, so there really is no pressure when you are having fun every day.”