Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, July 2, 2013 | 2 a.m.
A few hours before the Bishop Gorman High basketball team was scheduled to play in the championship game of the Durango Summer Shootout last month, Gaels star center Stephen Zimmerman sent coach Grant Rice a text message asking him to bring Zimmerman's jersey to the game.
Zimmerman, a 6-foot-11 junior, wasn’t expected to play that week for Gorman while attending the prestigious five-day NBPA Top 100 Camp hosted by the NBA Players Association in Virginia.
But Gorman, the two-time defending state champion, needed a last-second shot to win at the buzzer in the semifinals and was facing a tough Desert Pines squad in the finals. Zimmerman, despite being tired from a week of battling against the nation’s best players, didn’t want to let his teammates down.
“When he walked in, most of the (fans) on our side got real excited,” Rice said. “But the people on the other side, they weren’t too excited to see him, you know. He just dominated the game. He obviously gave us a big lift.”
Zimmerman showed up minutes before the game started — his jersey shortly followed courtesy of Gaels assistant Mike Wright — and led all scorers with 19 points in an 11-point victory.
Zimmerman was clearly the best player on the court. And not just that afternoon at Durango — each time he steps on the floor, according to recruiting website Scout.com.
Scout on Monday released its top 75 players for the class of 2015, ranking Zimmerman as the nation’s No. 1 player. Two others from Las Vegas — Gorman forward Chase Jeter at No. 29 and Las Vegas High wing Ray Smith at No. 66 — were on the list.
Zimmerman had his first scholarship offer before his freshman year at Gorman and has long been considered one of the top players of his graduating class. But he battled knee problems last year to slide in most player rankings, adding motivation to prove he’s the best.
“It’s really a blessing,” he said of the ranking. “After being injured last summer, coming back and working hard, I’m just really thankful."
Zimmerman’s packed schedule that day has resembled most of his offseason. Playing for the Dream Vision AAU team, he’s traveled to Dallas, Atlanta, Indianapolis and other cities to face other highly regarded players.
And with each tournament comes more recognition. Each time Zimmerman plays, social media is packed with positive reviews of his play — he’s great inside blocking shots and grabbing rebounds, passes extremely well for a big man, and has a great shooting touch.
“Offensively, Zimmerman is impressive. He has great hands and touch, can score with a variety of moves on the block, but is also skilled enough to step out and hit jump shots or attack from the elbow,” wrote Evan Daniels, a recruiting analyst from Scout.
“On the opposite end of the floor Zimmerman must be accounted for. He’s active, plays good help side defense and is one of the best shot blockers in the class.”
Zimmerman, who is a consensus five-star recruit by all of the major recruiting services, has scholarship offers from most major schools, including Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Ohio State, UCLA and Arizona. UNLV was the first to offer in the summer between his eighth- and ninth-grade years.
The No. 1 ranking will give players another reason to give Zimmerman their best. They know a good performance against a highly respected player could equal more recruiting attention.
That’s a challenge Zimmerman cherishes. For all of the rave reviews about his game, it’s his competitive nature and strong desire to be a winner that stand out. That’s why he couldn’t say no to playing in the championship game of an otherwise meaningless summer league game.
“Basketball is my main love. Any chance I get to play, I’m going to take it,” he said. “If my teammates need me, I’ll be there.”
Zimmerman’s ranking marks the second time in three years a Southern Nevada player has been ranked No. 1. Shabazz Muhammad, drafted last week by the Utah Jazz and traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, spent time as the top recruit for class of 2012.
With Jeter and Smith also being recognized, it’s a banner day for the quality of basketball in Southern Nevada.
“Three guys in the same class ranked that high, that’s huge for Las Vegas basketball,” Rice said. “It really shows where we are headed as a city.”