Stephen Zimmerman, a junior from Las Vegas, is being pursued by all the major schools, including UK, U of L and IU.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WDRB) – In a high school auxiliary gymnasium stuffed with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Steve Alford of UCLA, Johnny Dawkins of Stanford and assistant coaches from Kentucky, Indiana, Duke and other magical basketball programs, Lori Zimmerman is 5 feet 3 and the most important person in the room.
That's because her son, Stephen, is 7 feet and ranked the most important player in the high school class of 2015. Major college programs started offering him scholarships two years ago when he was 14.
Zimmerman plays for Dream Vision, the AAU program from Las Vegas that gave the world Shabazz Muhammad. He is barely 215 pounds, with shoulders about as wide as a laptop screen. He wears size 19 shoes. His growth plates project Zimmerman will grow at least another inch.
"I'm in the weight room a lot, but it's not helping out," Zimmerman said, laughing. "But it will."
But Zimmerman can really run, his dark, floppy hair flying as he flashes down the court. He can jump. He can pass and dribble the basketball, too. He looks very comfortable and poised using either hand. And Zimmerman can shoot. He used to talk about Dirk Nowitzki being his favorite basketball player. Now Zimmerman says that his goal is to be more than simply an NBA role player.
"I try to be overall (good)," he said. "Lately I've been outside more than getting in the post. About 85 percent of the players in the NBA are role players. I want to be one of the overall players, like a game changer."
When Zimmerman roared into the lane for a vigorous left-handed dunk over a helpless 6-6 defender, Lori Zimmerman's phone erupted with text messages.
Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing!
These were text messages sent by coaches sitting at the other end of the same auxiliary gymnasium at North Central High School, where everybody gathered for the adidas Invitational AAU tournament.
What were the coaching saying?
"That they love watching Stephen play," Lori Zimmerman said. "That they love the way he always plays hard. And that they'd love to coach him."
The chase began two years ago when UNLV, the hometown school, and UCLA offered scholarships. Zimmerman was about 6 feet 7 then and recovering from meniscus surgery on one of his knees.
It has edged into the insanity zone this spring. Zimmerman will be a junior at Bishop Gorman High School. Although he ascended into the top spot in Scout's ratings for the 2015 class earlier this year and he is ranked second by Rivals, Zimmerman said he would not pick his college for another year.
Kentucky has offered a scholarship – and the Wildcats don't deliver many offers to juniors. Louisville is on board with an offer. So are UCLA, Notre Dame, UConn, Arizona and at least 15 other schools.
"I believe he has 21 offers," Lori Zimmerman said.
Most of those schools were represented Thursday, with Pitino sitting directly behind the basket at the opposite end of the floor from Lori Zimmerman. Chances are that Pitino wanted a prime seat because Zimmerman was matched against Jaylen Johnson. He is a 6-9 forward from Ypsilanti, Mich., who is on Louisville's list of 2014 players to watch.
"I try not to look at (the coaches)," Zimmerman said. "I saw all of them. I just play. I'm not trying to look around. I'll hear about it later or see it on Twitter."
Did he see Pitino?
"Yes, I did," he said. "They're all big schools. I'm really happy they talk to me."
The coaches only text and call his mother. Nobody has been given Stephen's number. She chooses four or five messages every night and has her son return them.
"My Mom tries to make it even for me," Zimmerman said. "I call an even amount of people every week."
How will Zimmerman eventually figure all of this out?
"I'm real blessed that I have people that I know who can help me out with it," he said. "It's crazy. You just have to make sure you know the right people and make sure you make the right decisions.
"Go to the school that you're most comfortable with, the school that feels right."