A young Ta’Quan Zimmerman catches the basketball as it is passed to him on a basketball court in his hometown of Bunker Hill, Connecticut. In quick succession, he aims for the hoop, takes his shot, and scores!.
As the now 28-year-old Zimmerman fondly recalls each childhood memory on the court, he admits with obvious amusement that he was ‘just a fat kid who loved basketball’.
“I made shots because I was fat. I couldn’t really beat anybody to get to the basket so I would just shoot, before the defender came and stole it from me, or block my shot, so I had to shoot,” – Ta’Quan Zimmerman
Because he was overweight, and didn’t look like someone who ‘should’ be good at basketball, Zimmerman experienced a lot of bullying on the court. But that did not stop him. He explained that he felt like he had found his calling.
Making the best of every situation
“I had a natural feel for the game and I had talent, I was a pretty decent jump shooter. I loved basketball. I loved to play it, but I wouldn’t do it enough to get skinny,” he said.
And so he learnt then from an early age to take advantage of any situation. Zimmerman would practice to shoot far away from the hoop, a skill that later became valuable in his professional basketball career.
Additionally, growing up in a community which was plagued with violence, and drug infested, basketball gave him something to do, something to keep him out of trouble.
“There were plenty of times that I could have done that, there were plenty of times that I could have easily fall into the trap and the peer pressure, especially when that’s all you see,” he said.
The fourth of five children, Zimmerman revealed that his father died of a heart attack when he was just nine years-old. Understandably, the sudden death took a toll on him.
“I would spend about a whole week straight, and all I would think about was him dying and not being able to see him anymore. I didn’t think things would ever change or be alright. I used to ask myself ‘am I gonna think about this all the time, is this going to be on my mind where I can’t sleep?’ – Ta’Quan Zimmerman
He was too young to find the answers to these questions, but found solace in basketball, and in the guidance of his brothers.
“Me and my brother had to lean on each other, while my mom was going to work, trying to provide for us. In the hood, all we had was each other. I looked up to my brothers for help and some guidance,” he said.
When he was just ten years-old and attending the Northend Middle School, he decided to take a shot and try out for the basketball team, but this time he didn’t score.
“I was a fat kid, so in the back of people’s head they didn’t think I’d make it. What are you going to be? the manager?, the waterboy? Is he going to make sure our lunch is packed?” he recalled, laughing.
He tried out again for the team in seventh and eight grade, but was cut.
Disappointed, but still determined, Zimmerman continued to practice and develop his skill. One day it was noticed.
“There was a science teacher, Mr. McBride who was a shooting coach. He was the one that first pointed out that ‘hey man you can shoot the basketball a little bit, keep working hard’. And he kinda kept tabs on me, and checked in on me along the way,” – Ta’Quan Zimmerman
This recognition boosted Zimmerman’s confidence, and he soon started playing in leagues at his local recreational centre. His coach, Ray Brown, recognized his skill as a shooter, and took on the additional role of being a father figure in Zimmerman’s life.
Through coach Brown’s connections, he was able to attend the Holy Cross High School.
Describing that opportunity as “a pretty big deal for someone living in the hood” Zimmerman went to the school with one goal; to continue playing his hardest, if only to make coach Brown proud.
He played point guard on the freshman team, and his team went undefeated for the entire season. In fact, Zimmerman was playing so well that he was chosen to play on the junior varsity team.
And as his confidence grew, and so did his drive to get better at the game.
“I was like hold on, I think I got something. I really just started dedicating myself to my body, with my eating, trying to work on myself and better myself everyday now.” – Ta’Quan Zimmerman
The dream to be a professional player
In his sophomore year, Zimmerman had an experience which made him start thinking that he could use basketball as his ticket to a better life out of the hood.
“I can remember this game for sure, it was our 2006/2007 conference championship, and I was the backup guard for our best player on the team. So here it is, a sold out crowd,and it’s time for the jump ball. And our best player had his warm up top on, but he didn’t have his jersey on, so he couldn’t start the game. And coach said ‘hey, Zim, you starting!’ I was kinda nervous, but then again I said I have nothing to lose, so let me try and make the most out of this situation. And I ended up scoring eight out the ten points for my team to start the game,” he said.
“I couldn’t believe I was doing it, there were people cheering, I was like man, this is the biggest game of the year,” he said.
Although they didn’t win, that game gave Zimmerman the dream of playing professional basketball, and he set out to work to achieve it. He would workout from ‘sunrise to sundown’ at his local YMCA club, where he met and worked with trainer, Randy Brooks, who he said was integral in fostering his self belief.
“He told me ‘just do the best you can, and then everything else will take care of itself’,” he said.
During his senior year at Holy Cross High school, Zimmerman was starting point guard for the team. By this time he was getting noticed by coaches who wanted him to play for their AAU teams.
Getting into a division one school
Zimmerman played on an AAU team which had players like Anthony Ireland (now playing professionally in Portugal) and Jordan Williams (drafted by the New Jersey Nets now the Brooklyn Nets). Zimmerman said these players attracted a lot of scouts to their games, and he was going to make the most of it.
“I was gonna try and show them what I can do so I can get noticed too. I mean it didn’t matter how many coaches came there to watch Anthony, or Jordan, I just knew they only could pick one school,” – Ta’Quan Zimmerman
Soon he too started getting recruited, and the idea his dream of attending college could come through was thrilling for Zimmerman. But he wanted more.
The schools that were offering him scholarships were division two and three schools, and he was bent on attending a division one college.
“So now I’m challenging myself, I’m like I got division two? Let me see if I can get a division one scholarship, let me push more,” he said.
He decided to do a post graduate year at a prep school to get better and multiply his chances. After being selected MVP at a senior All Star Game in Connecticut, Josh Scraba, and Tom Espionosa, coaches at the Turkish school, Putnam Science Academy, in Connecticut offered him a scholarship.
Here, Zimmerman said he spent most of his time in the gym-training, and after a year, his gamble paid off.
He ended up having a big season. As captain of the team, he averaged 27 points a game, a record that still exists at the Putnam Science Academy today, where Zimmerman was enshrined in the Putnam Science Hall of Fame in 2018
“At the end of the season I had probably 12 offers, including Eastern Michigan and the University of New Hampshire,” he said.
He chose to attend the University of Long Island, because they were persistent, had a good team, and he got to go to university in New York City, how cool was that?
So in 2010, Zimmerman moved to Brooklyn with one goal in mind, to be his best, play his hardest, and win. But he didn’t even get to play a season for this team.
Find out why, in part II!