Part two: Zimmerman already making her markPublished 5:31pm Monday, January 28, 2013
When freshman Elyse Zimmerman enrolled to attend Niles High School this year, girls basketball coach Pat Touhey knew his program was adding a key cog.
She is already making her mark on the program as both a team leader and one of the Vikings’ top scorers.
Zimmerman’s career high in scoring came earlier this month with a 20-point effort — including four 3-point baskets — in a loss at Portage Northern.
Touhey, who believes the 20 points signifies a school record for a freshman at the varsity level, added he had not envisioned that type of scoring output from Zimmerman even being possible before the season began.
“If I have my way, she will score 20 points for us again,” Touhey said. “We have to convince Elyse that she can score. She is a scorer, not a shooter, and there’s a difference. She can score around the basket, she has an honest enough perimeter game, she’s got strength and speed.
“And she can get off the ground. Watch her shoot a jump shot. Very few freshmen get off the floor and shoot a jump shot like she does. It’s really unique and it’s only going to get better. She’s capable of putting up 20 points on almost any night we play. The only one holding Elyse back from that is Elyse.”
Zimmerman embraces her role as a primary scoring option, but also directs the Niles offense with an eye on involving her teammates as the point guard.
“We work together and we understand where everyone’s at,” Zimmerman said. “I can see what’s going to happen. I do have more experience and I have played more (basketball), but the other players are working hard and doing the things they need to do to get better. I just try to help them see things they’re not seeing, and that helps.”
Zimmerman played several summers ago with many of her current teammates under Touhey, before reuniting with them last summer. She said she has bonded quickly with her new/old teammates, although Touhey remembers the situation being a bit different when the girls were younger.
“When I came (to Niles) I didn’t really know anyone, besides these girls,” Zimmerman said. “I was really nervous coming into this situation, because everyone grew up with each other and they knew how each other worked. It was difficult for me to come in, especially as a freshman. Playing with them has helped me get closer to these girls. We have bonded, on and off the court, and that helps.”
“It wasn’t always so smooth because these kids kind of looked at her as a foreigner, but also knew she was really, really good. And vice versa,” Touhey added. “It wasn’t the easiest transition, even from what she knew of them in the past, but they have become the best of friends.”
With Zimmerman as his floor general for the next three-plus seasons, Touhey believes the team will not only improve by leaps and bounds, but also that Zimmerman has a chance to finish her prep career as one of the all-time greats to don the Lady Vikings’ uniform.
“When I compare Elyse, at this point in her career, to other freshmen who have gone on to be very special players here, Elyse falls in line with them. When I compare those kids to Elyse, and where she’s at at this stage, I believe she will truly have her mark and be seen as one of the better players to come through the Niles program.
“We’re already beginning to see some teams that are saying, ‘If we can shut (Zimmerman) away from the ball, they’re going to struggle even more.’ She sets the tempo and has a sense of composure and poise. That’s how important she really is for us. I truly believe she could be the best player I’ve had in the last five years before she’s done, and I’ve had some really good ones.”
(Editor’s note: Second of a two parts)