Big-Time Competitor Stephen Zimmerman Returns For 18th Nike Hoop Summit
One day after he played in the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game, along with all 10 of his USA teammates who also will be playing in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit, 7-foot, center Stephen Zimmerman landed in his hometown of Las Vegas – for a few days at least.
The winner of four-straight Nevada Division I state titles at Bishop Gorman High School, where he played alongside U.S. teammate Chase Jeter, Zimmerman finished with six points, six rebounds, one steal and a blocked shot in 15 minutes played for the McDonald’s West team.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Zimmerman. “We were all really blessed to be there. It was real competitive, and we tried to put on a show as much as we could.”
Playing on the victorious East team were two members of the 2015 World Select Team that will take on the USA in the 18th annual Nike Hoop Summit – the game’s MVP Cheick Diallo (Our Savior New American H.S., N.Y./Mali) and the 2015 Morgan Wootten, Naismith and Gatorade National Player of the Year Ben Simmons (Montverde Academy, Fla./Australia).
“I played against them,” said Zimmerman. “I went in the rotation whenever Ben was in, but I didn’t really guard him except for one play.”
In the Nike Hoop Summit, Zimmerman will square off against the World Team’s athletes, which include some of the top players from around the world who are 19 years old or younger. Much more than an all-star game, the Nike Hoop Summit is a one-game showdown that often is used as a springboard for foreign-born NBA hopefuls looking to improve their draft stock for this June.
The World Team roster again is loaded and boasts of 6-foot-11, Haitian Skal Labissiere, who plays at RYD Prep in Tennessee, and Zhou Qi, a 7-foot-2, center/forward from China.
This past summer, Zimmerman got a taste of competing against international big men as a member of the gold-medal winning 2014 USA U18 National Team that wrapped up a 5-0 record in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. While that was an eye-opening experience, they were not the only ones who helped improve his game.
“It showed how different nations and different areas play basketball,” Zimmerman said of his experience matching up against international opponents. “And obviously, playing with USA Basketball, I get to play with the players that we have, the best-of-the-best, so it is a great experience.”
Unlike most high school players, Zimmerman also had that kind of competitive practice opportunity at Bishop Gorman when he would go against Jeter, who is 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds.
“We went at it,” Zimmerman explained. “They split us up most of the time, and I know a lot of people don’t usually have that (competition) at their school, so that was really good for the both of us.”
When asked how he continues to compete and succeed day after day against top-level talent, Zimmerman points to preparation.
“I think a big thing is treating your body right,” he said. “If you come in feeling good, you are going to play good.
“You know, a big thing that kept me from playing nervous, or anything, last night (in the McDonald’s game) was telling myself that I was just playing a pick-up game with my friends that I have been playing with since freshman year. I think that calmed me down.”
It also is not far from the truth. After his freshman season, Zimmerman took part in his first USA Basketball experience, which was an October Junior National Team mini-camp that featured top players from around the country, and seven players who were 2015 McDonald’s All-Americans along with Zimmerman. And five more were his USA teammates this past summer at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
After the Nike Hoop Summit on April 11, Zimmerman has one last all-star game to look forward to in the Jordan Brand Classic. Following that, it is time for him to transition into a college basketball player, though he is still not sure where. His list of finalists includes Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and UNLV.
“I think I’m ready to go; I feel like I am ready for the next level,” Zimmerman said.
“Right now, it’s just about making the decision. I think I’ve gone through everything. I have good relationships with all five of the coaches, and I just feel like once I make the decision, I will be 100 percent about that school.”
One of six U.S. players in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit that have not yet signed a National Letter of Intent, Zimmerman will be among friends and familiar teammates as he again dons a USA jersey and looks to help lead the USA to a second-consecutive Nike Hoop Summit win.
Don’t miss your chance to see the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. EDT on Saturday, April 11. If you are in the Portland area, get your tickets at usab.com/nikehoopsummit.