INDIANAPOLIS — Stephen Zimmerman is trying. You've got to give him that. He understands his size-and-strength Achilles heel is the only thing that makes you wonder if he'll live up to his No. 1 Class of 2015 national ranking.
Let's clarify that. It makes the nit-picky wonder. Given the college coaches who gathered to watch him at last week's adidas Invitational – including Indiana's Tom Crean – wonder has its limits.
“I am lifting weights a lot,” Zimmerman said, “but it isn't showing.”
“Hopefully, it will.”
So the 7-foot, 215-pounder sprints up and down basketball courts in his best Cody Zeller impression and if he doesn't yet dominate – playing up a year against some of the nation's best Class of 2014 players adds to the challenge – that is likely to change soon.
Just ask Clayton Williams, his Las Vegas Dream Vision travel ball coach.
“He's going to be special. He can shoot from distance and he can get to the rim. His skill set is complete. He can play three positions. He's just scratching the surface of what he's going to be able to do.”
Performance backs that up in measured doses. Zimmerman had 13 points and 11 rebounds to help his high school team, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, win the Division I Nevada state championship last spring. He totaled 148 blocks for the season.
Then, last month in the top 100 Camp in Virginia, he averaged 10 points and five rebounds against some of the nation's best Class of 2014 big men.
Zimmerman has played against and practiced with Anthony Bennett (the NBA's No. 1 pick out of Nevada) and Shabazz Muhammad (the No. 14 pick out of UCLA). He uses Dallas Mavericks superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki as a model for the kind of player he'd like to become. He wants to be a game changer and college coaches would love to accommodate him. He started getting scholarship offers two years ago, when he was 14 years old.
Calls and texts have come pouring in, with time of day – and sometimes night – not a factor. Messages go to his parents first. They filter them so Zimmerman is not overwhelmed.
“Everyone is calling a lot,” he says. “It's crazy. I didn't expect it.”
He'd heard what it was like from Muhammad, a former Bishop Gorman teammate, but like so many things, you don't really understand until you experience it yourself.
“Shabazz told me it would be hard, that it would really hit you,” he says. “I didn't expect to be getting calls at 3 in the morning. It's crazy.”
Craziness borders on celebrity status.
“To have videos on YouTube of you, and then come here and have little kids know my name, that's amazing.
“I'm happy my parents are helping me out with it.”
Wherever he plays and NCAA rules allow, coaches gather to watch. Zimmerman is aware without losing game focus.
“I try not to look at them," he says, "but I see them. I just play. I'm not trying to look around. I'll hear about it later or see it on Twitter."
Zimmerman insists that he has no favorites, that every school is even. Given that he's more than a month away from starting his high school junior year, he says he is in no rush to pick a school. He might not decide until the fall of his senior year.
In this social media world, Zimmerman tweeted the scoop that Indiana had, finally, offered him a scholarship. And if the offer came later than Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas, Louisville and more, well, that doesn't diminish its impact.
“It's an amazing school, especially for big men,” Zimmerman says. “I'm always looking for a school that can develop a big man.”
In Indiana's case, proof comes from Zeller, the two-time Hoosier All-America forward now thriving in summer league basketball for the Charlotte Bobcats. Zeller was picked No. 4 in last month's draft and is now a millionaire.
Zeller and Zimmerman are both listed at 7-foot. Both run the court well, can pass, are smart and blend in well in a team concept.
“He's an amazing player,” Zimmerman says of Zeller. “He's a great person to look up to.
While Zeller arrived at Indiana with impressive skills, he honed them to a high level with the Hoosiers. That includes his ability to defend on the perimeter and get the ball on the outside and drive.
“The IU coaches brought that up a lot,” Zimmerman says.
“I just want to go to the school where I will be the most comfortable and the school that feels right.”