As a five-star recruit following his impressive high school campaign, Stephen Zimmerman received offers from several powerhouse schools including Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas and UCLA.
Although he had his pick among the best schools in the nation, he decided to stay home and would eventually sign with UNLV. It was a bit surprising to see the 11th-ranked player in the country pass on playing for those top schools, considering most prospects view those programs as a great opportunity to gain exposure for the next level. But Zimmerman viewed playing at home in front of his friends and family as the best move for his career.
While his signing at UNLV came with much hype, this past season for the Runnin’ Rebels didn’t quite pan out as expected. The school parted ways with its head coach midseason and the team finished with a 18-15 record. Expectations were high entering the season after signing the seven-foot Zimmerman. In addition to Zimmerman, the team also had projected draft picks in Patrick McCaw and Derrick Jones.
“It’s not the ideal situation for any player,” Zimmerman said at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. “It’s what we had to deal with in the middle of the season; we didn’t really have time to react to it much. [The coaches] all had the same plan and they were all together from the beginning so it’s not like our game plan changed much so that was the good part.”
To add to the inconsistent season for the Rebels, Zimmerman was sidelined with a knee injury for five games late in the year. Despite the up and down season, Zimmerman still managed to put together a solid freshman year. In 26 games, he averaged 10.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and two blocks.
While he was one of the most notable names coming out of high school, it remains to be seen where he will ultimately end up in next month’s draft. He may even be flying under the radar a bit leading up to the draft. He’s currently projected to be drafted late in the first round or early in the second round. In Basketball Insiders’ latest consensus mock draft, he’s currently projected to be taken with the 30th pick in the first round.
For now, Zimmerman seems to be enjoying the pre-draft process.
“It’s a blessing to be able to be here with any of the teams,” Zimmerman said. “The main message is they say they’re just trying to get to know me. They ask little stories and stuff and what I think of myself. The main thing is getting to know me, the side that they don’t get to see and the side they don’t get to know off of the court.”
Zimmerman measured in at just a touch under seven-feet tall with a 7’3.25 wingspan last week at the Combine. He brings great size and length to the frontcourt and could develop into a solid post player if given the opportunity. He still may need to add some weight to his frame since he weighed in at 234 pounds. After a summer of eating right under the guidance of an NBA team, he should be able to begin bulking up.
“[Teams] ask what I think my strengths and weaknesses are,” Zimmerman said of his pre-draft interviews. “What I feel I need to work on, what I feel I can bring to a program and what I can bring to the NBA.
“The main thing [I need to work on] is my body – getting bigger and being able to bump around with the big men in the league; the grown men of the league. I say [my strengths are my] versatility and being able to shoot at my size and energy and maturity as a young guy.”
Zimmerman proved in his lone season at UNLV that he has promise offensively. He has some solid post moves and looks like he’ll be a great pick-and-roll option for teams. He also showed that he is very mobile and does a good job cleaning up the glass on putbacks.
Growing up, Zimmerman modeled his game after Dirk Nowitzki. He has similar size to Nowitzki, and also has a soft touch on the offensive end and the ability to hit the fadeaway shot. Perhaps the biggest similarity is Zimmerman’s ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the rim.
“I had an older sister that played basketball and she was a huge fan of Dirk,” Zimmerman said. “I think early on that was probably what I watched, especially because I knew I was going to be a humongous player. I think that watching him, I definitely learned from him a lot.”
Now, Zimmerman will continue preparing for the draft. He said last week at the Combine that he didn’t have any workouts scheduled with teams, but that will surely change as the draft approaches. Most players will continue working out at training facilities and some will even participate in Pro Days with NBA executives and scouts on hand.
His shooting remains one of the biggest areas in which he’d like to improve. He shot just 25 percent from three-point range at UNLV, but remains confident he can increase that percentage. There were some concerns with his shooting motion, but that can be fixed given the right coaching.
Zimmerman’s days are filled with workouts and other exercises. He says he has some on-court workouts early in the morning, then hits the weight room and does some conditioning work. He takes about a three-hour break following that and then comes back and does more shooting drills.
“[The workouts have] been killing me, but there is no place I’d rather be,” he said. “I love the work process of it.”
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