March 3, 2012
STANFORD, Calif.- The first thing people notice about Andrew Zimmermann, aside from his 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame, is his beard. One national media outlet voted it the best beard in Division I basketball, which is nice, but not exactly scrapbook material for the senior forward from Oostburg, Wisconsin.
"It's just something I kind of had fun with," said Zimmermann, one of four Stanford team captains who will close out his home career Sunday against Cal. "There's very few times in my life where I have had complete freedom to do what I want with my appearance."
Zimmermann, hampered by nagging injuries, has started 20 games for the Cardinal this season. Johnny Dawkins, the Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball, is hardly fond of facial hair, but when Zimmermann showed up for practice with a beard last summer and played well during an exhibition tour in Spain, he cut him slack.
"Surprised me," said associate head coach Dick Davey. "I never thought he would."
Dawkins made Zimmermann trim it earlier this year after a trip to New York, but the beard remains. "Coach said, `I'm going to let him do it because I respect how he plays,''' Zimmermann said. "It kind of became a symbol of toughness. Giving everything you have and not caring what other people think. The team kind of fed on it."
So did opposing crowds.
"It's definitely made me a target," said Zimmermann. "But being a competitor, I enjoy it. Utah called me a cave man. It's fun and that's what college basketball is all about. I don't let it bother me."
While Zimmermann might not resemble a typical Stanford basketball player, his odyssey to The Farm is even stranger. He was recruited to Santa Clara by then head coach Davey, but never played for him. Davey retired following the 2006-07 season after 30 years with the Broncos, the last 15 as head coach.
As a freshman, Zimmermann played in 19 games and averaged 2.4 points and 2.2 rebounds in about 14 minutes per contest. But he didn't like the direction the program was headed and decided to apply to Stanford to rejoin Davey. The latter made no promises, and Zimmermann wound up transferring to Foothill Junior College for a year, before gaining admittance to Stanford in 2009.
"He holds a special place for me from the standpoint of his work ethic and what he went through," Davey said. "I think the year he came in they admitted 16 transfer students. That's not athletes; that's students."
Davey is like a second father to Zimmermann. During his freshman year at Santa Clara, his girlfriend worked as a nanny for Davey's married son.
"He's a very straightforward guy," said Zimmermann. "I knew he was always there and I could go to him. At the same time, he wasn't going to go out of his way to make things easy. He wanted me to know I would have to prove myself."
Zimmermann made 17 starts as a sophomore and one as a junior, appearing in 25 games. And while his stat sheet is underwhelming--he averages 3.2 points and two rebounds a game this year--his biggest contribution is his hard work, leadership, passion, and knowledge of the game.
"Andrew has been terrific," Dawkins said. "I'm really proud of what he's done every year he's been here. He's been one of our hardest workers and best competitors. He's given us everything he's had. He's left a legacy of leadership, toughness, and competiveness that I think will go a long way for our younger guys."
Zimmermann brings a lunch pail to every game. He does the dirty work, whether it's banging against bigger post players, setting screens, or diving for loose balls.
"It's hard," said Zimmermann, who averaged nearly 16 points and 10 rebounds a game his senior year in high school and was a unanimous selection to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 3 All-State team. "Sometimes you think you can do more, but then by doing that, you don't score or are not as efficient as you could be. Through that experience, I just decided to stick with what I do well: play solid defense, lead the team where I can, and take solid shots. I think my game has improved dramatically by just reducing what I do."
Davey, who oversees the Cardinal big men, has never coached a harder worker, and that includes former Santa Clara great and NBA All-Star Steve Nash.
"I've had a number of dedicated, deranged players," Davey said. "He's the hardest working kid I've ever had."
Davey said Zimmermann is almost like a player-coach.
"He has zero fear of trying to show a player how to do something or tell a player where to go," he said. "He's kind of the eyes for everybody when he's on the floor defensively. Not that he doesn't make mistakes once in a while, but he has no fear of trying to teach other guys how to do things the way he thinks they should be done, which about 95 percent of the time is the right way to do it. He really understands the game, probably as good or better than most coaches do."
Zimmermann will graduate this spring with a degree in biology and is currently doing research for an honors thesis. He would like to attend medical school and business school.
"I want to be able to get into bio-tech or med-tech because I think the next step in medicine is really in the technology that we develop. Research has really explored a lot of the illnesses that we have today. Whether it be cancer or neurological disorders, a lot of chronic things we don't really have cures for--we just have treatments," said Zimmermann. "I think the next step will be the technologies that we develop. It think that will be a very important step and I want to be a part of that push if I get there in time."
According to Davey, medicine's gain is basketball's loss.
"He'd be a tremendous coach," Davey said. "I'd be shocked if he weren't great at it because of how hard he works."
Zimmermann's parents, Charles and Jane, will attend Senior Day on Sunday. Zimmermann has thought a lot about his last regular-season home game and figures to be emotional when he is introduced.
"That's just the kind of person I am," he said. "It's kind of freeing in that I've done everything I can do. At this point, there is nothing more I can do to prepare for the moment. I know that all I have to do is go out and play hard. If I do that, whether I score a lot or don't, everything will take care of itself. I just want to enjoy it."
As for the future, Zimmermann sees nothing but good things for the Stanford program.
"We're definitely going in the right direction," he said. "I haven't been part of a winning season and we're going to have that no matter how we finish the last couple of games. We're right on the edge of 20 wins and that hasn't happened since four years ago."
"I would say my part is trying to instill in guys that it's about your legacy, what you leave Stanford with. You see the banners. You see the pictures in the locker room or you hear people talking about Mark Madsen, Brevin Knight, Adam Keefe, the Lopez Twins, Josh Childress, and Chris Hernandez. It's got to mean something every game. I want people to remember me when I come back."
- by Mark Soltau
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