Not far from the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are hitting the hardwood of the Thomas & Mack Center. Then-freshman center Stephen Zimmerman was getting his first taste of collegiate experience in the Runnin’ Rebels’ scarlet and grey, but he wasn't in a new territory. The Las Vegas native put up impressive numbers at Bishop Gorman High School— 10.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks— and was a five-star recruit heading into his collegiate career.
Zimmerman was looking to have a similar impact for his hometown collegiate team. While the program didn’t finish at the top of the Mountain West Conference, his production spoke for itself. His aggressiveness on the glass, ability to block shots, touch, and post footwork made him an NBA prospect.
Along with his skills and upside, the 6’11” big man was surrounding by a top notch coaching staff at UNLV. David Rice boosted more than 25 years of experience, along with many other assistant coaches who were valuable to the program. Stacey Augmon, who had a strong 15-year career in the NBA and UNLV alum, brought a wealth of knowledge as a former NBA player and accumulated years of coaching experience following his professional career.
“It helped me out a lot,” Stephen Zimmerman told Ridiculous Upside. “We had a lot of well-known coaches and coaches that have NBA experience or have people in the NBA that they know, so they definitely helped. It helped me grow a lot even though I was in the same city as my family. It was my first time living by myself. It was a big learning experience for me as a person and as a man.”
His time at UNLV was short lived. The UNLV product posted 10.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks on 47.7 percent shooting from the field in 26.2 minutes per game. He was an NBA prospect who showed promise is as a pick-and-roll player, his ability to put the ball on the floor, and showed to be a willing passer.
Three months after his final collegiate game against Fresno State, Stephen Zimmerman was donning a new uniform. The Orlando Magic selected the UNLV big man with the 41st pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Zimmerman expressed a variety of thoughts when he heard NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announce his name at the Barclays Center.
“That’s a tough question because I had dreams and thoughts that I was going to go a lot higher, so it was tough for me to go that low and be (No.) 41,” Zimmerman said. “At the time, I was mad because I wanted to go a lot higher, but after awhile I got really excited. I was drafted. It was by far anything what my family expected or anything so. It was really big, but that was the main thing.”
Stephen Zimmerman didn't see much time in Orlando during his rookie season. He spent more time with the Erie BayHawks, the then-affiliate of the Magic, since he wasn't seeing much playing time. After being waived by Orlando, Zimmerman found a new home in El Segundo, California with the South Bay Lakers. He only played half the season in the Laker purple and gold before finding a new home for his third season.
The 22-year-old center believes his previous stops in the NBA and G League has molded him as a player and person.
“Every where I’ve stopped definitely helped me out a lot,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve learned a lot with the Lakers and with the Magic then being here. Every thing is a learning experience. Over here, I’m just hoping to get better and grow as a person and as a player.”
The Capital City Go-Go picked up Stephen Zimmerman in August’s G League Expansion Draft then traded his returning rights to the Westchester Knicks. Despite being on his third team in three years, the 6’11” big man continues to embrace his journey.
“I just want to keep remembering that I’m still playing basketball,” Zimmerman said. “I’m still healthy. I’m still doing the things that I’m doing. I’ve got to be grateful for my situations. It’s tough traveling a lot, especially being in the G League. It’s one of the hungriest leagues in the world, so it’s a fight every game. I just got to remember that. I’m here and I’m playing basketball.”
He still possesses the same mentality and desire to show he has the ability and skills to be an NBA player. The season progressed and Zimmerman’s production continued to rise. The Las Vegas native returned home for the G League marquee event, the Winter Showcase.
As the NBA personnel observed the talented G League prospects, Stephen Zimmerman had two impressive performances and left a solid impression for those in attendance. He was working the pick-and-roll well and was getting involved on the offensive end early on. The Knicks center posted 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1 block per game during the event, along with notching his first double-double of the season. For the Las Vegas native, it was a great feeling returning home to see family.
“It was a lot of fun. Getting to see my family and taking pictures with UNLV fans and stuff like that,” Zimmerman said. “Eating home cooked food. It was great. In Toronto and Mississauga, it’s a lot farther away, so I’m happy. At the end of the day, hopefully I’m in the next league.”
Zimmerman has continued his high-level play post Winter Showcase where he posted back-to-back double-doubles on a near perfect 85.7 percent from the field (12-of-14). He is still having productive games in the role Westchester has him in.
The Westchester Knicks have been a high-level defensive team this season, which is something Mike Miller and his coaching staff instill in their players. Since arriving in Westchester, Zimmerman believes he has seen his defensive game grow the most.
“Probably defensive I’ve seen my game grow more,” Zimmerman said. “Getting comfortable with my teammates and trusting them more. Just being in the right place at the right time. Coach DA (Derrick Alston) and Bogs (Keith Bogans) and Coach (Mike) Miller have helped me out with that.”
The Westchester Knicks are in the back nine of their season. Zimmerman continues to use his professional experiences as learning lessons to mold his game. By the conclusion of his third season, Zimmerman’s game will have taken another step forward as he works towards his goal of getting back to the Association.