The list of players UNLV has landed since Dave Rice became head coach includes three Rivals.com five-star prospects, a Mountain West Freshman of the Year winner and a No. 1 NBA draft pick. Rice added another elite recruit on Thursday night, when Steven Zimmerman announced he has committed to the Rebels.
“Thx 2 all the programs & fans that supported me,” Zimmerman wrote on Twitter. “This is MY decision & I've decided 2 stay home & attend #UNLV #LetsRun #Vegas.” Zimmerman drew scholarship offers from more than 20 programs but had narrowed his options to Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and UNLV.
He has long been considered one of the top frontcourt prospects in this class. Playing under Rice’s brother, Grant at Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High, Zimmerman won four consecutive state championships and averaged 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks as a senior, according to MaxPreps.
Zimmerman was selected to participate in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic, which will take place on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. The 7-foot, 230-pound center is highly regarded for his offensive polish, passing and ability to hit jump shots. Zimmerman showed off his athleticism earlier this month at the McDonald’s Slam Dunk contest.
Zimmerman’s decision comes after UNLV failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. In a Mountain West Conference that was ranked 12th in the country by Kenpom,com and featured three tourney teams, the Rebels placed seventh with an 8-10 record and finished the season at 18-15.
That team was anchored by a recruiting class ranked fifth in the country by Rivals.com. The group featured five-star shooting guard Rashad Vaughn, five-star small forward Dwayne Morgan and four-star center Goodluck Okonoboh. With Zimmerman, UNLV’s 2015 class should also rank among the nation’s best.
The Rebels have already landed four-star small forward Derrick Jones and four-star point guard Jalen Poyser. While both those players signed National Letters of Intent, Zimmerman reportedly has said he will not do so, but instead will sign a non-binding scholarship agreement.
Though UNLV loses Vaughn to the NBA, it could return one of the top frontcourts in the Mountain West. Okonoboh and Morgan are both set to return, and sophomore power forward Christian Wood, a projected late first-round pick in the upcoming draft, also could be back.
The Rebels also will have Oregon transfer Ben Carter eligible after he sat out last season. In addition, UNLV reportedly will host Washington transfer guard Nigel Williams-Goss and Mercer transfer guard Ike Nwamu for official visits this weekend. Williams-Goss won’t be eligible in 2015-16, but Nwamu potentially would be able to suit up right away.
Even if the Rebels don’t land either of those two players, their group of returnees—which also includes Jordan Cornish, Patrick McCaw and now-eligible Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagears—ensures UNLV will have more than enough talent to make the tournament and potentially compete for a conference championship.
The question is whether Rice can harness that talent more effectively than he has in the past.
[via YouTube user CityLeagueHoopsTV]