April is a month jammed with AAU tournaments, in-school evaluations and coaching visits for the country's top junior prospects, but big Brian Zoubek is not missing out on much. Scout.com's #3 center and #15 overall player in the 2006 class has his ducks lined up with recruiting and a second straight state championship trophy to admire while the rest run the annual April rat race.
The 7'1" 270-pound center from Haddonfield Memorial High School in New Jersey recently had (right) elbow surgery and is out of action on the hardwood this month. Zoubek played with the pain through much of his junior season of high school basketball, and only afterward had it cleaned up.
"It started out as a minor problem, and then it escalated and hurt more and more," says the South Jersey big man. "We thought it was a bone chip, and I almost stopped playing altogether. Then we had an MRI, which showed that it was some scar tissue. We then knew it wasn't going to get any worse, so I kept playing with the discomfort."
Zoubek wore a bulky and restrictive elbow pad the remainder of the season, and it limited a some areas of his game. Free throw shooting took a nose dive, and his ability to shoot a face-up jumper was reduced. But Zoubek continued his stellar junior year while the Bulldogs kept winning. Haddonfield went 28-1 through their repeat South Jersey Group II championship, where the 7'1" junior scored a game-high 22 points in the title game. Then Haddonfield played in the Tournament of Champions, where the winners of the state's four public school groups and the two parochial champions face off each year. Haddonfield finally went down in the semifinal game against Derrick Caracter and St. Patrick's, though Zoubek still scored 18 points and grabbed eight boards.
"We repeated as Group II champs, but we went farther this year and ended ranked #3 in the state - the top public school in the state. It's pretty near impossible to beat a parochial power in our state," Zoubek describes.
"I usually stay in the paint. I like down there," he comments on his junior year game. "I improved from last year with my overall strength, which opened up my game a lot more - rebounds, post moves, position. My footwork definitely improved. And I learned a lot from the great group of seniors I had the chance to play with. Just my overall knowledge of the game was so much better - knowing where to be and what to do. I think I also have better ball skills near the post, and I've become a good passer. We had so many players around who could score that I needed to be able to find the open man."
Zoubek averaged 21 points, 14 boards and 4+ blocks per game in his junior year. He is just starting to grow into his body, adding 20 pounds since the fall and still in his first year of strength and conditioning training.
"I can't lift with my elbow right now, but I'll be working hard to get stronger this summer. I'm also eating a lot of the right things and making sure I watch what I eat. I don't drink protein shakes, though; my parents don't want me to do that. My mom is in the kitchen quite a bit," he laughs.
"I favor my right [hand], so I want to work on going left more consistently," Zoubek details on his off-season plans. "I would definitely like to extend my game a little more - add range to my shot. We didn't need me to do that this year, with so many shooters. And my trainer likes to train my handle like a guard - that helps you so much in the post."
Right now, Brian Zoubek is a McDonald's All-American caliber player. If he succeeds in his strength and skills training goals, it is hard to ascertain where his ceiling may lay as a high school senior. With his size and abilities, it is no surprise that he has his pick of schools where he can study and play college basketball in the fall of 2006. You would expect a player as elite as Zoubek to have a long list of suitors chasing him, but he has applied an academic filter to his universe of options and trimmed to a final trio.
"In terms of getting noticed, I don't think I'm missing out by not playing right now. My college search is pretty far along already, and I'm looking at just Stanford, Duke and Wake Forest. The only step left is to get comfortable with the players, campus and school life at each place," he declares. "Now I'm ready to take my official visits and get done with my decision before the summer."
Zoubek says he should have a commitment before his junior year concludes at Haddonfield Memorial, which finishes on June 20. He leaves tomorrow for his first official visit, running through Saturday at Duke. Next weekend he will spend Friday through Sunday at Stanford. Wake Forest will be his third and final official visit, though that has yet to be scheduled.
College coaches are also allowed during this period to make in-school contacts at a recruit's campus. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski came the first week of the contact period earlier this month, and Wake Forest's Skip Prosser came in Monday. Stanford and Trent Johnson made an offer to visit as well, but as the school who has recruited Zoubek the hardest and longest, the Cardnial were respectfully declined.
"We have had a lot of contact with Stanford already, so we told them it was not necessary," the recruit explains.
There are basketball and academic questions Zoubek will probe on his official visits, but he may already be at peace with the high level of both education and athletics all three afford him. Instead, there are some 'softer' issues and items he hopes to explore.
"They are all great coaches. I don't think I can make a bad decision with that. Now I want to focus on other areas," Zoubek offers. "At Stanford, in particular, I would like more of a chance to hang out with the kids on the team without coaches around - see the campus and get a better feel for the campus life."
One basketball issue on the table for discussion with the Cardinal is how Zoubek might mesh in a 2006 class already populated by Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez, the 6'11" forward/center duo from Fresno (Calif.). The seven-plus-footer can see the pros and cons to a 'triple tower' lineup on The Farm and remains on the fence about how to approach that issue.
"I know the Lopez Twins are coming in. We could see a bigger lineup with the three of us, but we have to see," he opines. "It is a little bit of an issue, but we have to see. It could be awesome to have two 6'11" center to practice against every day."
While we are less than two months away from Zoubek's planned college commitment, there has been some uncertainty in the public recruiting services as to his scholarship offers. He says that there are differing levels of articulation he has heard from his schools, but semantics do not obscure for him and his family that each of three hold offers open for him.
"Even if they have not said as much, there is a clear understanding that I have an offer to commit. That is our understanding at this point, even if the exact words have not been used," he posits.
For Stanford, there remains the question about his admissions status. No recruit can fully commit to the school until they have applied to and been accepted by the Admissions Office. Zoubek is an excellent student who reports a 1360 he scored on the SAT in December. He completed and sent in his admissions application some time ago, so has he been accepted?
"The Stanford coaches and I have decided that we want to keep that between us," he answers.
While Zoubek is keeping his admissions status close to the vest, we have to believe he received a green light to be considering Stanford as one of his final three schools and taking an official visit next week.
The Brian Zoubek sweepstakes are heating up with the onset of his official visit travels. We will stay in touch with the elite student-athlete and keep you abreast of his latest as he moves closer to a college commitment.
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