Next Cats: 7-footer Zimmerman looking forward to Big Blue sales pitch at Madness

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 18, 2014 

Stephen Zimmerman

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — The recruitment of high school basketball star Stephen Zimmerman could all come down to first impressions.

Zimmerman — a 7-footer from Las Vegas — is already well acquainted with the college coaches recruiting him. They've been on his trail for months now, and he's in regular contact with coaching staffs at the eight schools that make up his current list.

Those coaches have made their first impressions. It's getting near the time for the schools to do the same. Zimmerman has set up three official visits for the fall, and more will probably be added in the coming weeks.

He doesn't have a firm timetable for a college decision, but what happens on those trips could decide where he ends up.

"I'm really waiting on these official visits to see how everything plays out and how comfortable I am with the schools," he told the Herald-Leader. "It'll just be whenever I feel comfortable."

UK Coach John Calipari lobbied for Zimmerman and his family to make that first trip to Lexington during the biggest recruiting weekend of the year: Big Blue Madness.

Calipari got his wish, and Zimmerman's official visit to UK for Madness on Oct. 17 was the first such trip that was set in stone.

The five-star center isn't the only one looking forward to the festivities.

"It was honestly mostly my parents' choice," he said. "They watch it all the time — the Big Blue Madness on TV. And they've always said how cool it would be, so they're really excited about going.

"I expect it to be crazy. ... It looks really exciting."

UK's lone commitment for the class of 2015 — Chicago guard Charles Matthews — has said he plans to do some recruiting on the Cats' behalf and is also a confirmed guest for Madness. Cleveland power forward Carlton Bragg is also coming, and the guest list will only grow as the date gets closer.

Zimmerman has also planned official visits to Louisville during the final week of September and then North Carolina the following weekend.

The other schools on his list are Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, UCLA and UNLV.

Coaches from most of those schools have watched him this week at the Nike Peach Jam event in South Carolina. Calipari and UCLA Coach Steve Alford were there early to get a good spot for Zimmerman's game Thursday night. Assistants from UNC, Kansas and Louisville were sprinkled throughout the crowd. ranks him as the No. 8 overall prospect in the country, and his skill set leaves no doubt as to why he's such a valuable prospect.

"At 7 feet tall, he's mobile, he has a good feel, he blocks shots and he can score the basketball. And that's rare at that size — that you're able to do all of those things," said's Evan Daniels. "He's an elite center prospect."

That do-it-all ability is what Zimmerman says college coaches like about him, particularly Calipari, who has personally taken over the recruitment and stays in contact on a weekly basis.

The UK coach has built a solid relationship with Zimmerman and his family through those phone calls and multiple visits to see him in Las Vegas. If the first step of a successful recruitment is winning over the parents, Calipari can cross that off his list.

"They like him," Zimmerman said. "He's a real, straight-up, honest guy. They trust him enough that — if I do commit there — they trust him to have me in his hands.

"I feel the same way. I've talked to him a lot. He seems like a great guy and a great coach."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog:

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