By Norm Newell
Photography by Janssen Photography
Jay Zimmerman is a math whiz at West Central Area High School, and if you did the math regarding his personal statistics, here’s what you would get: 6’6” inches tall, Hollywood good looks, smart with a 4.0 grade point average, never had less than an A in high school, a three sport letterman in football, basketball and baseball, a varsity starter in all three sports since his sophomore year, conference MVP in basketball, a National Honor Society member, Student Council President, a math mentor to other students and, well, just about anything else you can think of.
In everyday language he would be called a well-rounded wonderful young man. But in the sports world, his high school basketball coach, Kraig Hunter, said it best in coach-speak when he said “Jay Zimmerman is the total package.”
All coaches know what that means. He can do it all in the sport, i.e. he has all the moves, speed, jumping ability, the sports intelligence needed to be in the right place at the right time, anticipates well, is focused enough to work hard on his defensive and offensive footwork, will do whatever he can to make his team successful, provides maximum effort all the time, and is a leader for his team. It also means that off the court he is a leader in the classroom, a leader in other school activities, and he gets along well with other students, teachers and the world in general. And…in spite of all these accomplishments, he’s also humble. Yes, Kraig, that’s the total package.
I had the pleasure to meet three of Jay’s teacher/coaches. They all reiterated the same attributes. You need to hear what they said to get the full picture of “JayZ”, his nickname amongst school and teammates.
Coach Jon Moore has had Jay in the football program, where he’s been a starter since his sophomore year. Zimmerman has played different positions, including tight end, wide receiver, defensive end and safety. “Jay is so easy to work with, so coachable,” Moore states. “He has good speed, great range on defense and would play wherever we needed him. His teammates voted him a captain his senior year, because he always supported them.” Moore went on to describe how Zimmerman led by example on the field, but was always humble and unassuming. He would never bring attention on himself when he made the big play nor point out he was offensive MVP and All Conference Honorable Mention his senior year. Moore says Zimmerman is personable to everyone; his teammates, the coaches, parents and the young school kids who look up to him. Moore continues, “Just today he came by my class of middle schoolers and gave them some high fives.” Moore added the highest praise a coach can give when he said, “He’s an unbelievable young man; I’d take a team full of Jay Zimmermans anytime.”
In baseball, “JayZ” has also started since his sophomore year. He plays mostly center field where his speed and range means he can track down fly balls over a large area. With that speed, he’s led the team in stolen bases. He also pitches, serving mostly as the closer in late innings where he’s logged more strikeouts than innings pitched, relying on his fastball to keep his opponents’ batting average only .138 against him. Coach Chris Shea echoes the other coaches stating, “Jay is a senior leader on our team, is well accepted by his teammates, works very hard and doesn’t want to bring attention on himself; he doesn’t make a big deal of any of his accomplishments.”
Asked about his favorite sport, Jay quickly responds, “Definitely basketball.” Coincidently it’s his most successful sport. Zimmerman’s rise to excellence in basketball is described by Coach Hunter, “Jay is a real testament to how determination and putting in the hard work on your physical skills can make a player one of the best. When he started in the 4th grade youth program, he wasn’t as slender as he is now, not particularly fast, not real aggressive. Even up into sixth and seventh grade, we coaches didn’t really recognize that he would have the potential to be the player he is today. But Jay started to focus in on basketball and in eighth grade we noted he started to score more. We know he really worked hard on his shooting, moves and defense in that summer and he made great strides. Every summer from that point through his senior year he would play summer leagues, go to camps, play AAU ball, and work on his shot through the 10,000 Shot Club.”
Jay decided to take his freshman year of football off and work with the Athletic Republic sports strength and agility program. “It turned out to be a good decision in preparing me to step up in basketball. It increased my speed, agility, jumping ability and overall foot movement,” says Jay.
Coach Hunter recognized those benefits immediately as Zimmerman came into basketball in 9th grade. Hunter noted, “Based on his prior year level, we started him out with the C squad, but with his rapid improvement in agility and aggressiveness, we moved him quickly to the JV squad and by the end of the year he played in a number of varsity games, he had improved that much.” Jay went on to play basketball in summer leagues, play on two AAU teams that played throughout Minnesota and occasionally in bigger tournaments in Omaha, Milwaukee and Sioux Falls. He has gone to summer basketball camps at the North Dakota State School of Science and at Southwest Minnesota State. In those summer camps he would work on his post moves, his footwork, his dribbling, and his shooting, each year concentrating on more aspects of his overall game. During those same summers, Jay would play American Legion baseball, coach Pee-Wee baseball for the summer recreation program, and participate 3 to 4 days a week in the weight-lifting and agility program at the school. “I enjoy being active. I always like having something to do,” Jay simply states.
“Each year Jay has come back from his summer with increased skills and more determination,” notes Coach Hunter. “He developed a number of smooth and effective post moves, up and under fakes, short jumpers off the glass, and all accomplished through amazing footwork. After his junior year, we recognized he would be doubled a lot in the post his senior year and asked him to work that summer on extending his shooting range. He did exactly that. Going from never shooting a three pointer in his career to shooting a school record three-point shooting percentage. With his increased aggressiveness and agility, Jay also became an outstanding rebounder setting the school record by over two hundred rebounds.”
Zimmerman ended up breaking the career 1,000 point milestone, finishing with 1,296 points. When asked, Jay couldn’t recall his career total, but did remember, “It was two points shy of the school record, but that’s ok, it’s just a number.” When asked about his career rebounding total, again he had no memory of the total rebounds, just that it was “A couple hundred more than before.” Not worrying about statistics is all part of Jay’s unassuming nature. When asked about what he liked most about basketball and sports in general, he was quick to list three important factors, “I really enjoy playing with my friends and the camaraderie of the team; I love the excitement of game night; and I enjoy making lasting memories with my team, my school and our fans.”
Asked three things that stand out about Jay, Coach Hunter quickly replies, “He is a smart, great young man, very humble and treats everyone with respect; he has worked to be the very best in a quiet and unassuming way, extending his skills every year; and he is a 100% competitor when he steps on the court or field of play.”
In basketball, Jay was Honorable Mention All Conference his sophomore year, and All Conference his junior and senior years. He was the unanimous choice for the Prairie Conference Most Valuable Player of the Year his senior year. Team awards included most improved his sophomore year, best defender his junior year, best offensive player his senior year, “chairman of the boards” (rebounding leader) his sophomore, junior and senior years. In his senior year, he averaged over 13 rebounds a game, including one game with 20 rebounds. He scored 558 points his senior year, helping his team reach a 20-7 record.
Zimmerman received numerous college contacts about playing basketball, including schools in the Chicago area and as far away as California. He was looking for a basketball fit that would go with his specific desire to get an engineering degree. He recently signed with M-State in Fergus Falls to raise his basketball resume, take coursework that will eventually get him to a 4-year college and his engineering degree, and to continue making memories in front of his family and friends. He may give baseball a try at M-State also.
Parents Kerry and Julie say Jay has always been motivated and always liked to be busy. They agreed his decision to go to Athletic Republic his freshman year was highly beneficial and they feel the expense of the program was more than worthwhile. They also happily paid for and went along on the AAU summer basketball trips, stating “Those were some very fun family times together and really helped Jay become comfortable playing against the best in basketball.” When asked his favorite food, Jay immediately answered, “Mom’s homemade spaghetti,” and Julie said she would prepare it at least once a week before big games.
When M-State head basketball coach C.J. Peeters opens the gym this fall for basketball, he’ll find a package waiting for him. When he checks it out, he’ll find Jay Zimmerman and he’ll find he’s the total package. All Peeters has to do now is find a way for Mom to bring the spaghetti before their big games and watch JayZ excel.