Far from the madding crowd pursuing the rim-shattering story of Shaquille (the Unreal) O'Neal, Rodney Zimmerman sat in the near-empty stands of Williams Arena Monday, talking quietly with two reporters.
He couldn't understand the attention.
"I'm embarrassed," Zimmerman said. "I've embarrassed myself to death. I can't believe I'm sitting here talking to you after the way I've played. I shouldn't even be showing my face.
"After the way I've played, I should be back on the next plane home. If Jim Harrick was here, I know he'd be putting me back on the plane."
Jim Harrick is the basketball coach at UCLA. Rodney Zimmerman is Harrick's prized recruit from Air Force High in Colorado Springs, Colo. Zimmerman averaged 26 points as a senior--or 22 more than he scored in Monday's North-West game at the U.S. Olympic Festival.
Zimmerman, a 6-foot-9 forward, played only 16 minutes in the West's 95-90 defeat, and had more fouls--five--than points. He finished with six rebounds, down from the seven he had Sunday, which was down from the 13 he had Saturday.
He took one shot. He didn't block any.
You call this a festival?
"Right now," Zimmerman said, "I'm just trying to get this thing over with."
It has been a troubled stay for Zimmerman, even before the competition began. During a Fourth of July pretournament workout, with Williams Arena sweltering in 100-degree heat and no air-conditioning, Zimmerman's legs started to wobble. He felt faint. He said the gym began to spin.
Worse yet: "I felt my heart skip a few beats."
If the death of Hank Gathers has taught anything, it's that cardiovascular irregularities in basketball players should not be taken lightly. Zimmerman's weren't. The festival training staff sent him to the University of Minnesota's medical center, where tests were run.
The results revealed a microvalve prolapse, or a small heart murmur. According to Zimmerman, doctors told him the condition isn't serious.
"It's normal in people," Zimmerman said. "A lot of people have it. I never had any problems before. We were just running hard, trying to prove ourselves, and it was over 100 degrees. I just overdid it."
Zimmerman was cleared to continue playing, and for one game, Saturday's opener against the South, he looked like the answer to Harrick's rebounding prayers. In addition to his 13 rebounds, Zimmerman had one spectacular blocked shot against O'Neal, the South's 7-1 center from LSU.
"That was a big block," Zimmerman said. "That's something everyone remembers. . . . But everything's been going downhill ever since."
Zimmerman has been searching for reasons why.
Maybe it's the competition.
"Basketball in Colorado is not one of the big things," Zimmerman said. "It's really not that great. . . . I couldn't get much competition. I tried to get out of the state a lot. Playing against the players here has been a big adjustment."
Or maybe it's the coaching.
"I'm not going to say anything in the papers here but you're from L.A. so I can tell you this," Zimmerman whispered, leaning toward a reporter. "I think (West Coach Don) Monson is a great coach, but he doesn't get you pumped up enough. At least not enough for me. He's too laid back.
"Maybe he should light a match under my hand, I don't know. But he isn't hard enough on me. He says, 'Well, you're still just out of high school.' I can't use excuses. There are a lot of other players here just out of high school."
Zimmerman hasn't liked his assignment at the festival, playing in the post, with his back to the basket. "I'm out of position," Zimmerman claims. "I see myself as a small forward, not a center.
"I wish I could rewind the last game and go out there and play from the perimeter. I'm not big enough to go down low."
This should come as news to Harrick, who recruited Zimmerman to play the post, with his back to the basket.
"I know, I know," Zimmerman said. "I know that's where they want me to play. UCLA has so many guards, so many perimeter shooters already. Harrick wants me in the post spot, and I'll give him three years there.
"After I've proved myself, when I'm a senior, hopefully I can play where I want."
Zimmerman has thought this out. He knows his quickest path to playing time at UCLA will be as a rebounder and as a shot blocker, so as soon as he leaves Minneapolis, he says, he's headed straight for the weight room.
"I want to put on at least 40 pounds between now and the first game," Zimmerman says, with total seriousness. "We're talking work. Work, work and lots of sweat."
Now, if he can just leave Minneapolis.