Sunday, July 20, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas' Big 3
Last week, the fate of a local basketball standout seemed uncertain. Las Vegas High forward Ray Smith, a five-star recruit and one of the class of 2015’s top-30 prospects, tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a camp in Chicago. He’d be out at least six months.
But four days after the knee injury, the 6-foot-8 small forward committed to national-powerhouse Arizona. It was proof of the confidence coaches have in players’ abilities to return from this injury, and it shows how much the Wildcats believe in Smith.
One of three five-star prospects for 2015 from Las Vegas, Smith would have been one of the main attractions this week as the recruiting world turns its eyes on the three tournaments that bring the country’s top AAU players to Las Vegas. The Fab 48, adidas Super 64 and the Las Vegas Classic take place July 23-27 at gyms across Southern Nevada.
This is the last open recruiting period for college coaches, meaning the tournaments are their last chance this summer to watch and evaluate players. In Las Vegas, we have three of the best in Smith and Gorman’s Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman, a pair of 6-foot-11 players.
Zimmerman’s team, the Oakland Soldiers, isn’t scheduled to compete. But, considering this is Zimmerman’s last hurrah on the AAU circuit, don’t be surprised if he joins another team for the weekend. It’s common for players to switch teams to get more exposure.
Neither Jeter nor Zimmerman has committed to a college. They attract large crowds and a who’s who of college coaches each time they play, meaning some of the nation’s top college programs will be represented courtside in Las Vegas.
The gold medal he wore on the plane is tucked away. Chase Jeter enjoyed winning with Team USA’s Under-18 squad in Colorado and wearing the medal on the trip home, but he’s here for another game, not to flaunt or discuss past achievements.
It’s a Wednesday night at Grant Sawyer Middle School, and Jeter is about to play in the Desert Reign Pro City League, a league featuring college players and graduates. He has no obligation to appear, especially since his flight from Denver arrived a few hours earlier. But Jeter is determined to get in a workout tonight, so why not here against older, more experienced players?
Jeter, who’s about 6-foot-11 and 220 pounds, is often the youngest player on the court. The class of 2015 center turns 17 in September, making him the youngest player on the recent U18 U.S. squad that included Bishop Gorman High teammate Stephen Zimmerman, who’s nearly a full year older.
While Zimmerman has been a top-10 player in the class of 2015 for the better part of three years, Jeter only recently reached that group. It’s been a long, steady climb, and it has led to Jeter’s final five prospective colleges: Duke, Arizona, UCLA, Kansas and UNLV, where his father, Chris, won a national championship in 1990.
Representatives from those and other schools will be in Las Vegas this week for the summer’s final open recruiting period watching the nation’s top players at local AAU tournaments in typically sold-out high school gyms. The summer before a senior season is often the most important of a player’s prep career. It’s a time to shine during the final games open to college recruiters. It is the culmination of years of effort and sacrifice.
At least that’s one way to look at Jeter’s journey.
Another, the one he prefers, is that the real destination is much farther away.
“I haven’t succeeded in the sense that I’ve arrived,” he said, “but that if I continue on this path, good things are going to continue to happen.”
There’s one scene in HBO’s “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” documentary that got a lot of replay at Chris Jeter’s house. The scene shows the elder Jeter rising almost effortlessly from the baseline to complete a 360-degree dunk.
The film came out in 2011, when Chase Jeter was an eighth-grader struggling to dunk. That one snippet of Chris Jeter provided enough of a goal to help the son match and eventually surpass the father’s aerial skills.
“Chase is a different generation of a basketball player,” Chris Jeter said. “He’s just a much better athlete. I’m not ashamed to say that.”
Chris Jeter, who graduated with UNLV coach Dave Rice and assistant Stacey Augmon, is a 14-year veteran at Metro Police. Kim Jeter is an elementary school teacher with 23 years in the Clark County School District. Although they divorced 13 years ago, both have remained active in their son’s day-to-day life.
“I couldn’t be where I am today without them,” Chase Jeter said.
Chris Jeter calls his and his ex-wife’s parenting a 50-50 partnership in which both are invested 100 percent.
“When it comes to basketball and raising a child, we’re the model parents for that,” he said. “It’s not me, it’s not her; it’s us.”
Chase said he planned to make his college decision in August, after the fervor of the summer circuit dies down. Chris Jeter said Rice and Augmon, who will always be his friends “first and foremost,” have done a good job with recruiting his son.
“Chris Jeter has always told me how much he loves UNLV,” said Rice, who’s prohibited by NCAA rules to comment directly on athletes he’s recruiting.
National recruiting analysts consider Duke the favorite for Chase Jeter, in part because of a March visit. Chris Jeter accompanied his son and took a photo with his UNLV national championship ring — earned in a 30-point victory against Duke — next to Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, who on that day was wearing his Team USA ring.
Considering Chase’s 3.8 grade-point average and goal of becoming a lawyer when his playing days are over, it’s understandable why he would give Duke a long look — even if that’s not what Rebels fans would like to hear.
“I would hope that whatever decision Chase makes,” Chris Jeter said, “Las Vegas and Nevada would be happy with that decision.”
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When he’s not in school or playing basketball, which doesn’t appear to be all that often, Chase Jeter said he preferred simple pleasures; activities like laughing with close friends or trips to the mall.
“As long as I’m with the right people, I can always have fun,” he said. “We do a good job staying out of trouble.”
Part of that attitude has to do with Jeter’s approach to the sport. He won’t call basketball a job because of potential negative connotations, but for the past two years, Jeter has dedicated himself to the idea this could be his profession.
It’s helped him rise from a player ranked in the top 50s two years ago to No. 33 at this time last year. Now he’s at No. 8, a spot behind Zimmerman and two ahead of Las Vegas High’s Ray Smith.
Rankings have always been subjective, but CBSSports.com points out a staggering 92 percent of the top-10 players to exhaust their college eligibility in the one-and-done era have reached the NBA.
“They say it doesn’t matter, but I think being a top-10 guy, a top-5 guy, the No. 1 guy, it matters,” Jeter said. “It’s something that I strive for. So far that hard work has paid off.”
So far. There’s much more ground to cover, and if you’ll excuse him, Chase Jeter needs to get going. An individual workout is on the schedule, and a businessman keeps his appointments.