Rebels basketball:

Pro future a major factor in college choice for local UNLV target Zimmerman

Stephen Zimmerman, a 7-foot top-5 prospect in the class of 2015, has the hometown Rebels in his final eight schools

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Bishop Gorman center Stephen Zimmerman spins away from Centennial’s Garett Scheer during their game Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Bishop Gorman won the game 73-50.

The recruiting process really picks up for most high school basketball players during the spring and summer before their senior year. For Stephen Zimmerman, this probably feels like business as usual.

The Bishop Gorman junior has been on national recruiting radars for several years, with his long frame and nimble feet enticing pretty much every program in the country. On Wednesday, Zimmerman cut his list down to eight schools. Over the last 10 years, the programs that made his cut have accounted for 14 Final Four bids and five national championships.

Those figures don’t include UNLV, which is in elite company as it makes Zimmerman a top priority in the class of 2015. The other schools joining the Rebels are Arizona, UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana and North Carolina. Zimmerman has already taken unofficial visits to the first three and plans to use at least a few of his five allotted official visits on the remaining schools.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Kendall Smith falls into UNLV recruits Stephen Zimmerman, left, and Rashad Vaughn during their annual preseason Scarlet and Gray scrimmage Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

The Rebels are recruiting just as well as those other programs. Their next step is turning that into a breakout season on the court, and they feel 7-foot Zimmerman could help with that.

Zimmerman spoke with the Sun to discuss narrowing down his choices, playing for the Oakland Soldiers and getting to the NBA:

Was it difficult to get your list down to just eight schools?

Yeah, but at the end of the day you know the schools you like and you can see yourself at. I guess it was kind of hard looking through all the schools. I didn’t just set it at eight; that’s just what was left.

What factors are most important to you at a program?

I look for schools that are going to help me develop the most. My goal is to get to the NBA. I want a school that’s going to help me get better as a player and a person. Winning’s a big factor, obviously everybody loves winning, but that’s a side note to the development part.

To that end, are you judging these remaining schools by how many players they’ve had in the NBA?

All these schools have sent at least someone to the NBA. They all have done it in some way, although some more than others. I do look at how a player was when they got there and how they ended up. That can show me if they got worse or not. Maybe they were supposed to be higher in the draft and then ended up going low. The draft is one of the biggest things that I’m looking for in a college.

Do you see yourself as a one-and-done player?

That’s always been a dream for my family and me. If the opportunity presents itself I’m going to take it. But if I’m not guaranteed to be a top draft pick I’ll probably stay there a little bit longer.

Has your relationship with UNLV changed throughout the years of recruiting?

It’s stayed the same. When I had a phone, they texted me a lot in the beginning. Not too much but enough to show you that they care about you. They let you know they care and how important you are to them.

Do you judge a program based on a player leaving early and how he ends up doing?

I guess I could. If they left early, then that’s more about them than the school. Maybe the school was thinking they weren’t ready yet and they could get more from them but they already had their mind set on leaving. That can be a more personal thing than the program.

What’s your timetable for making a decision?

After I take some unofficial and official visits, I’ll make the decision whenever I feel the time is right.

Was there a specific reason for changing summer-league teams this year?

I’ve played with Dream Vision since I was in eighth grade. The same team, for that long, I was just thinking it would be fun to play with a Nike team or something different. My parents thought that would be a good decision, something new. I was talking to some friends and I figured EYBL is probably the best way to go. I’ll see a lot of the different players that you don’t usually play against. It’s crazy.

Your Bishop Gorman teammate Chase Jeter also recently cut his list and still includes UNLV. How much do you guys talk to each other about this process?

We talked to each other a lot about it early when we were still learning. Now that we’re getting more grown, it’s spread out a bit. We’ve always said that if we both happen to like the same school … we’re not going to do it just because, but if it happens it happens. We both know that we both have to make the right decisions.

Do you get a lot of local pressure trying to persuade you to stay in the desert?

Kind of. I try not to go on websites that say come here or whatever, but you’d be surprised how many people here at my school that say “You’ve got to go to Arizona” or “You’ve got to go to Kentucky.” I get just as much of that as “Stay home and go to UNLV.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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