UNLV basketball:

Rebels recruit Stephen Zimmerman comfortable waiting out his knee injury

Zimmerman, who has several offers in the class of 2015, has missed most of Dream Vision’s AAU season but is nearing full health

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Leila Navidi

Stephen Zimmerman, second from right, of the Dream Vision Elite CA 17U sits on the bench during a game against New Heights NYC 17U Blue at the adidas Super 64 AAU tournament at Rancho High School in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 25, 2012.

While the eyes of the nation’s top college coaches follow the elite prospects playing at seemingly every high school gym in the Las Vegas Valley this week, the one who will have their attention for the next three years sits quietly on the bench.

Bishop Gorman sophomore-to-be Stephen Zimmerman is at once comfortable waiting for his right knee to properly heal and dying to get back on the court. The battle within is constant.

His 6-foot-10 body feels fine and tries to push him further, faster than his brain will allow. But at the end of the day, Zimmerman knows the games he could play for Dream Vision when he’s 15 pale in comparison to the ones that could follow. And his bright future is not worth jeopardizing.

“You really can’t be too careful it,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman was known on the national recruiting scene in the class of 2015 before he ever suited up for Gorman. Currently he has eight scholarship offers — UNLV, UCLA, Kansas, UConn, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and Memphis — and interest from at least a dozen more schools.

“UNLV’s been recruiting me hard. It’s a great program,” Zimmerman said of his hometown school.

Some may think that not battling through the injury would lessen his stature in the eyes of college coaches, but really the maturity he’s showing in emphasizing his future over the present is probably applauded by his suitors. His mom, Lori, certainly appreciates it.

“I think I’ve actually been the one that’s had the hardest time with it,” she said. “Stephen has a really good attitude about it, which is great and was really surprising to me.”

When they found out that Zimmerman would essentially miss the entire AAU season, Lori asked her son how he was remaining so calm. His response? Because this could be happening when he’s a senior instead.

After Gorman’s loss to Findlay Prep last January, Zimmerman went in for arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee. He didn’t undergo much rehabilitation and three weeks later Zimmerman was back on the court. But he could tell something wasn’t right. The swelling and tenderness never went away.

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Findlay Prep guard Nigel Williams-Goss drives to the basket while being defended by Bishop Gorman center Stephen Zimmerman during their game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at Cox Pavilion. Findlay won the game 73-61.

In May, shortly after he played with Dream Vision in Arkansas, Zimmerman went back in for another MRI. The results showed the cartilage was still torn. He got a second surgery in June and has missed the entire AAU schedule since then.

Instead of road trips and bonding with the team, Zimmerman has had daily rehab sessions that can last as long as three hours. For the most part this summer, keeping Zimmerman focused on getting better instead of trying to skip ahead to playing hasn’t been difficult. He wants to take his time.

“I’m so proud of him at those times,” Lori said, “because he really shows me that he’s growing as a person, he’s maturing and he really does have the right outlook.”

But there are other moments, too, especially now toward the end of his scheduled rehab, when the fire burns almost too fiercely for him to contain.

“Having all this energy building up is just killing me,” Zimmerman said.

His body is telling him it’s ready to go. He has full range of motion in his knee and there’s no more pain or swelling. On Wednesday, before his team suffered an embarrassing 67-40 loss at the adidas Super 64 tournament, Zimmerman was able to do some jogging. He’s also talked his way into shooting for an hour, though Lori emphasized to him that shooting doesn’t mean running and shooting.

Basically, if this tournament was the most important of his life, Zimmerman is healthy enough to play. But it’s not, and there’s no reason to risk anything. On Monday he will go back in to get cleared by the doctor and by the end of next week he should be a full participant in pickup games or practices.

From there it’s back into the full elite recruit experience, with one major exception: Zimmerman doesn’t have a cellphone.

Lori handles all of the contact with college coaches, though Zimmerman’s not shy about talking to them. He would just prefer there be a middle man, or in this case a woman, to take some of the pressure off him. Especially when he considers the mountains of messages he could start receiving next summer thanks to the NCAA’s new unlimited texting rule.

Maybe by the time he’s a senior Zimmerman will change his mind and get a phone of his own. But right now college is so distant he doesn’t really think about how many schools are after him, and staying disconnected is a good way to keep living in that insulated world.

In a way the injury has been a blessing. Barring any similar setbacks in the coming years, Zimmerman won’t have time to do the things he’s done this year.

When he’s competing, Zimmerman turns down invites to parties and won’t stay out late the night before games. But without those games this summer, he’s been able to stay up late playing video games or watching movies and have sleepovers with his friends without worrying about what time he has to play the next day.

He has been working hard in physical rehab and he took a summer class, but these may be some of most carefree days Zimmerman has for a long time, because those eyes will find him as soon as he steps on a court.

“He’s had the summer to remember what it’s like to be 15,” Lori said.

And what more could a kid, or his mom, ask for.

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

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  1. Zimms will be fine, he's still young and growing. I know how the feeling is having so much pent up energy, and wanting to do something but waiting and healing is best.