Even during my fifth and most-recent season of covering the NBA’s G-League, I was still amazed at the caliber of talent playing. In case you didn’t know this, but on any given night, you, me, or anybody else could be watching the likes of former college stars, NBA veterans, and recent draft picks and not even realize it. Yet among the many players, I saw up close, I saw one in particular whose performance and potential spoke volumes to me. And upon further inspection, I realized why.
While Stephen Zimmerman is indeed a former second round draft pick, with only three years under his belt, his resume is quite impressive. By the age of 22-years-old, Zimmerman had won four consecutive state championships in high school, was selected to the McDonald’s All American team in 2015, and as a freshman, averaged nearly a double-double for UNLV.
So what is Zimmerman doing in the G-League? Oh, that’s easy, just paying his dues. After stints with the NBA’s Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, the Nevada native established himself as a promising G-League prospect via his career averages of 8 and 7, while also displaying his ability to run the pick and roll, shoot 15-footers, and defend the basket by all means.
I spoke with Zimmerman last month, after the Westchester Knicks defeated the Windy City Bulls on March 7th.
Arden: Coming back from your experience with Team USA, in which you guys were successful, how has it felt upon your return to Westchester?
Stephen: It’s been pretty good. I believe the change of scenery helped me out a little bit, as I was able to see something different. But as for my return here, it’s been going well so far. I’m playing solid basketball and I’m able to help the team out.
A: How would you describe what it’s like to play for Coach Van Gundy, while also playing with the kind of talent as you did?
S: There was a lot of fun, to be honest. Coach Van Gundy really demands you to work hard. I’m actually lucky that I missed all of the training camp parts and I arrived only for the games (laughs). But it was a really good experience and I was happy, I could help them out.
A: For those that know, we are aware of your incredible high school playing career. But to do what you did, whether it’s being an McDonald’s All American or winning four state championships, what and who aided you everyday?
S: Yeah, I mean there’s actually a lot to it. When I got there (at Bishop Gorman), Shabazz Muhammad was there and we had a lot of big time players. That was the best year for me, because I didn’t play a lot and I was able to sit back and learn (laughs). But just to reflect on the talent, I played with is incredible. There was Chase Jeter, who went to Duke (before transferring to Arizona) and Zach Collins, who’s currently with the Portland Trail Blazers. A lot of players and people helped me along the way and it was a great way to help my career.
A: You’re certainly a prime example of this generation of players, who had their skills and careers highlighted on social media. Is social media such a big deal for you guys?
S: It just creates a bigger spotlight and brings a lot to the table. I still remember those days of watching mixtapes and sometimes, I wish, I was back in that stage. But on another note, social media blows everything up and even as somebody, who has seen it up close, it’s still crazy to witness.
A: As someone who is actually a “One and Done” draftee, was your thought process prior to declaring difficult or no?
S: I would say it was more so unique. Throughout high school, I was a top recruit and decided to stay home and was even coached by the Rice brothers (Grant and Dave). Yet, when looking back at my freshman year, a couple of factors came into play. First of all, I wasn’t always healthy and lastly, they fired Dave midway through my freshman year at UNLV.
So at the end of that season, right after the remaining staff was cut loose, it made me consider my options. Do I stay here and start over or transfer elsewhere, but sit out a year? And that’s when declaring for the Draft became a possibility. I honestly feel those first two choices made it easy for what I did. I also have to give my parents, a lot of credit for doing a great job preparing me to be a pro and live on my own, which I did during my first season in Orlando.