Thursday, July 25, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Stephen Zimmerman had time to line up the dunk, and when he finished the left-handed windmill Kentucky coach John Calipari, sitting front and center under the basket, could hardly contain his excitement. He’s hardly alone.
Zimmerman helped kick off the final five-day recruiting period of the season in Las Vegas with a double-header for two different teams in gyms about a half hour apart. First Zimmerman played for his Dream Vision team at Rancho High in the Adidas Super 64 and then the Bishop Gorman High 7-foot center traveled to the Gaels’ gym to get a run in with Belmont Shore in the Fab 48 Tip-Off Challenge.
In the stands for both games were some of the nation’s top college coaches, each of them hoping Zimmerman, a consensus five-star recruit and arguably the top prospect in the class of 2015, picks them. UNLV is right there in the mix. But just like that dunk, Zimmerman knows he has time.
“Once the school season comes around I’ll be more focused on (college choices) but this summer I’m just trying to play,” he said.
At this time last year Zimmerman had to watch from the bench as he recovered from a knee injury. Since then he’s completely recovered and dominated at nearly every camp, tournament or pickup game he’s played in across the country. His talent is so sought after that Zimmerman’s total scholarship offers are up to, well, he’s not exactly sure.
“I lost count at 20,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman takes most of his increasing notoriety in stride, but there are moments that allow him to step back and realize how great this all is. One of those was when Louisville offered him a scholarship the first time they contacted him.
On Tuesday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino was at the White House to celebrate the Cardinals’ national championship. On Wednesday he was sitting midcourt at Rancho for Zimmerman’s Dream Vision game against the Milwaukee Rebels. Players notice those types of things.
“It shows me that I’m held to a high standard and I have to play great every game,” Zimmerman said.
In that first game Zimmerman didn’t factor into the offense much in the first half and Dream Vision lost 92-87. It’s a setback but certainly not something the talented squad can’t overcome as they return Thursday for two more games of pool play. In the first one, at 9:20 a.m. in Rancho’s main gym, Zimmerman will go against athletic big man Goodluck Okonoboh of Mass Rivals, another UNLV target.
Rebels coach Dave Rice is expected to be in the bleachers for that game just as he was for the first Dream Vision game. Rice also headed over to Bishop Gorman on Wednesday night for Zimmerman’s second game, where Rebels assistant Stacey Augmon had already claimed a spot.
There was a battle for space at Bishop Gorman not only for the first game on Court 1 — Zimmerman scored 20 points to help Belmont Shore to a 101-93 victory — but also the second, which featured three of the top 10 players in the class of 2014. UNLV target Myles Turner (No. 10) helped Texas Select pull a 63-62 upset against Mac Irvin Fire, which features Jahlil Okafor (No. 1) and Cliff Alexander (No. 4).
At the same time as Turner’s game, new Findlay Prep guard Rashad Vaughn, a top-10 recruit and UNLV target, was playing on the opposite court. It’s an overload of basketball that will only continue through the weekend.
Zimmerman’s goal for the rest of the weekend is to win as many games as possible. His overall goal is to continue to live as regularly as possible, even as the national spotlight on him grows more intense.
To combat that pressure his stepmom, Lori, who’s a fixture behind the bench at every game, handles the calls from coaches and media. Then Zimmerman carves out time to call people back, always appreciative that they’re interested in him.
Zimmerman is as normal off the court as he is unique on it, a combination that finds him not shortage of fans in Las Vegas. And he’s only getting better so grab your seat while you still can.