Zimmermans share love of hoops and Razorbacks

By: Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Arkansas' Bailey Zimmerman goes against Tulsa's Tatyana Perez for a loose ball during a game Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas' Bailey Zimmerman goes against Tulsa's Tatyana Perez for a loose ball during a game Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— Matt Zimmerman grew up dreaming of playing basketball at Arkansas.

Zimmerman, who was a standout for small school Wonderview in the 1980s, tried out for the Razorbacks’ basketball team upon arriving on campus, but was told by then-assistant coach Mike Anderson that he wasn’t cut out for that level.

He was offered a position as a team manager, however, and was able to be part of Arkansas’ run to the 1990 Final Four in Denver.

In 2002, Anderson hired Zimmerman as an assistant coach at Alabama-Birmingham and brought him to subsequent jobs at Missouri and Arkansas. It was while still an Arkansas assistant that Zimmerman received a phone call one night while on the road recruiting in the Florida panhandle. On the other end was Jimmy Dykes, then the Razorbacks women’s coach.

Dykes had just watched another Zimmerman, Bailey, star for Wonderview, and Dykes was getting ready to offer a scholarship. Matt could not have been more proud to see a Zimmerman get a chance to live out a dream of playing for the Razorbacks.

“Jimmy watched her practice and I talked to him that night and he was feeling good about her, just from watching her practice,” Matt said. “That next day he called me and told me he was offering her. She committed in two minutes - no hesitation.

“I just enjoy seeing a Zimmerman out there. We’re from rural Arkansas, from St. Vincent. Most people don’t know where St. Vincent is.”

St. Vincent is a small township about 10 miles north of Morrilton in west-central Arkansas. A predominantly Catholic community, some from St. Vincent attend the private Sacred Heart Catholic School in Morrilton, while others attend the local public school, Wonderview.

“It gets its name because it is up at the top of a mountain,” Matt said. “Some people call that mountain Possum Trot and some call it Pigeon Roost.”

Wonderview has long had a strong basketball program in the state’s non-football-playing classification. Matt Zimmerman was a state runner-up as a junior, and Bailey Zimmerman and her three siblings - a brother and two sisters - all won state championships there.

Bailey is now a senior for the Razorbacks. Matt has since transitioned to the director of basketball operations and radio color analyst for the men’s team. The third cousins work and practice in the same building nearly every day.

“It’s kind of great that I always have that person to go to,” Bailey said. “It’s a home-away-from-home to have him here. He always checks in on me; sometimes a little annoying. He’s a worrywart and wants to make sure I’m doing the right thing, which is great to have.”

Matt and Paul Zimmerman, Bailey’s late father, were second cousins. Paul was two years older than Matt.

“They were best friends,” Bailey said. “They talked every day - literally, every day - about basketball, life, just everything.”

Both were good high school basketball players; Matt at Wonderview and Paul at Sacred Heart. Paul played collegiately at Central Arkansas in Conway.

“I thought the world of her dad,” Matt said. “He always wanted to see those kids have a chance to go to college and/or play college basketball. I think she was in the eighth grade and I was at Missouri, and I remember Paul Wayne calling me and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got one. This one is going to be really good. She’s going to be able to play at a high level.’”

Bailey grew into the ideal size of a high-level player, eventually reaching 6-feet tall. Arkansas-Little Rock coach Joe Foley offered her a scholarship after seeing her play as a sophomore.

“That was a big deal for us because Joe Foley is a really good coach,” Matt said. “I knew then when Joe Foley had interest in her, then, OK, she can play.”

Paul Zimmerman never was able to watch his daughter play college basketball. He died in August 2015, just as Bailey was getting ready to start classes at the university.

“We talked a lot during that time,” Matt said. “I was just worried about her and how she was going to be. But she was amazing. He passed on a Sunday morning and then the day we had the funeral, Jimmy brought the whole team down there. The team got on a bus and went to St. Vincent and came to the funeral. That meant a lot to the family. To see those girls from her team there, that was awesome.”

Bailey said having family on campus was good to have as she was transitioning to college life.

“He helped me through everything,” Bailey said. “You have your basketball people here, but it’s nice to just have that connection - your family, your blood connection - to help you as well.”

Zimmerman played scarcely as a freshman, but as a sophomore in Dykes’ final season she started 23 times and averaged 4.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. With a thin roster in Mike Neighbors’ inaugural season last year, she started all 31 games and averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in a faster-paced system.

“She has shown a consistent ability to adapt to whatever we have asked her to do,” Neighbors said. “She got asked to do several different roles last year and that role is changing this year. She can do it, and I think that’s a great quality.”

When Neighbors arrived, he found Zimmerman to be a good 3-point shooter, but wasn’t sure how well she would adapt to his “Race n Space” offensive system.

“I would never have thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be the best thing for Bailey,’” Neighbors said. “You look at the stats, look at the background and you didn’t know where it was going to go.”

But Neighbors noticed one thing about Zimmerman in preseason intrasquad scrimmages: her team always won.

“She cared about her teammates, she cared about winning and she bought in faster than maybe anybody,” Neighbors said.

“She was one that adapted to the style of play change even though you wouldn’t have thought she would have.”

Zimmerman is expected to play around the perimeter this season in multiple roles, as a shooting guard or at either of the forward positions. Neighbors said she has shot the ball “very well” in practice.

She scored four points and had four rebounds in Arkansas' season-opening 98-53 win over Northwestern State last week. The Razorbacks play at Texas-Arlington on Tuesday.

“This is a big role for me to take on, but I’m definitely excited,” Bailey said. “I’m realizing now that this is it for me and I’ve got to give everything I’ve got.

“We’re just tired of losing. You’ve got to keep building and head in the right direction, and I think that’s where we’re going.”

Matt Zimmerman travels with the men’s team, but when he isn’t away for work he plans to be at Bud Walton Arena to cheer her on.

“They’ve struggled at times, but here it is lining up her senior year and we think they’re going to be really good,” Matt said. “She’s got a chance here going into her senior year, and I think they’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team for sure; I really do.”

This article originally appeared in Hawgs Illustrated

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