Drew Timme is not so quietly putting together one of the best seasons by a freshman big man since Gonzaga took up NCAA Tournament residency in 1999.
Timme’s stats compare with those of Zach Collins, Domantas Sabonis and Austin Daye, all of whom were NBA lottery picks – with Collins becoming the program’s first one-and-done player. Elias Harris set the freshman standard by averaging 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds as a 20-year-old in 2010.
Timme is powering through the so-called “freshman wall,” the physical and/or mental barriers that sometimes arise from the grind of the lengthier college season versus high school.
He’s played his best basketball over the past five weeks, including a solid five-game stretch with Killian Tillie slowed by a sprained ankle.
“I’m just really confident in the offense now, no more second-guessing as much,” Timme said. “Just letting myself play. Everything is becoming more second nature.”
Confidence has always been part of Timme’s playbook, right next to his oversized personality. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder often combines the two, chatting it up on the court with opponents or offering unfiltered opinions to coaches and older teammates in any setting.
“I don’t shut up, I’m always talking,” said Timme, when asked if he’s toned it down as the season has progressed. “I’m not trash-talking all the time. Sometimes I’m like, ‘How is your day going?’ Something you wouldn’t expect to hear just to try to throw them off.
“I think the game is 90 percent mental. That’s something you can win by choice and something I feel I’m good at.”
The Zags are a quieter bunch, save for junior wing Corey Kispert, so Timme’s outgoing demeanor is a welcome addition.
“So important, especially with the group of freshmen he came in with,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “Those guys are silent. What he brings personality-wise is every bit as important.”
Michaelson has experienced it firsthand. Timme was set to commit to the Zags in November 2018, but not before pranking Michaelson.
“B-Mike is so serious all the time,” Timme said. “Basically, I just told him I wasn’t committing, it was a bad fit, he didn’t do a good job recruiting me. Just messing with him. He took the bait, of course.”
Now, Timme’s and Michaelson’s versions of the story don’t exactly match up. Timme said Michaelson began texting his mom, asking what he did wrong. He estimated waiting 10 minutes before calling Michaelson back and telling him he was going to be a Zag.
“The gist of it is true,” Michaelson concedes. “Every time he’s told it, the details get more outrageous. It was probably like 10 seconds (before Timme called back), but it kind of shows his personality to have the wherewithal to do it and the fact that he keeps embellishing it.”
Michaelson saw all of it – Timme’s diverse skill set and self-assurance – when he started recruiting the Richardson, Texas, native.
“His feel, his ability to handle the ball, pass, play inside-outside was a perfect fit for what we do,” Michaelson said. “As you got to know him, what made you feel really good was there is a toughness to him and a little bit of a swagger that is so much more important than the general public realizes.”
One story that needs no embellishment unfolded when Timme and several friends were driving to Timme’s house to celebrate after a playoff win. Just a few minutes away from arrival, they noticed thick smoke from a nearby house covering the road.
One of his friends dialed 911 to report the fire and they drove to the front of the house to provide the address.
Timme noticed a child walking near the front door. He grabbed the kid and started yelling and pounding on the door, eventually waking up the mother. His friends went around back and did the same, alerting the father.
The parents, their two kids and a dog got out of the home safely, the best possible outcome in a scary situation.
“We were interviewed by a (TV) station,” Timme said. “They came to practice the next day.”
Timme played football, baseball and soccer growing up. He focused on basketball as a 6-7 freshman and soon received his first offer from Oklahoma State. Many more followed.
He was tutored by his father, Matt, who played at SMU and stressed that Timme learn how to dribble, create and pass in addition to the finer points of post play. Timme would eventually own most of J.J. Pearce High’s all-time records, including for assists.
Timme turned down overtures to join prominent prep programs. He had no intention of leaving his hometown or missing out on playing with younger brother Walker and for family friend Marc Johnson, Pearce’s head coach.
Timme put up 27.7 points and 17.9 rebounds as a junior. By then, he was drawing heavy interest from Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference programs. He reached another level after joining Drive Nation for the Nike EYBL summer circuit prior to his senior season.
The team, stocked with future D-I players, was coached by Drive Nation Sports complex founder Jermaine O’Neal, who played 18 NBA seasons.
“What I helped him with was technique, subtle things, studying the way the defense is playing, how to get your shot off quicker,” O’Neal said. “He reminds me a lot of myself. Coming out of high school (straight to the NBA), I was a talented kid but was still unpolished. I remember going to Indiana (in his fifth season) and (assistant coach) Mark Aguirre was there. Before and after practice always being with him, learning how to face up, how to jab.
“That’s what I saw in Drew. He had all the footwork. People may look at me crazy when I say this, but his footwork reminds me a lot of Hakeem Olajuwon. You just don’t see kids with that anymore.”
O’Neal credits Timme’s parents for doing an “incredible job with him,” and telling the former NBA player, “Drew stands on his own two feet. Get after him as much as you need to.”
O’Neal quickly found that Timme could absorb instruction and critique without taking it personally.
“I used to test him, dig into him and get on him,” O’Neal said. “He used to say, ‘OK coach, I got you.’ We’ve had some phenomenal kids (play for Drive Nation) over the three years in the EYBL. He’s probably my favorite. He’s special.”
Timme has taken advantage of extended minutes in the past five games, averaging 15.4 points on 71.4% shooting and 77.3% at the free-throw line.
Timme doesn’t bring Tillie’s 3-point shooting, but his variety of skills pairs nicely with post Filip Petrusev, who has averaged 24 points in the same span.
“Drew’s making the most of it, but literally he was playing good early. It was just the fouls (limiting his time),” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Drew’s not just a post guy. He can bring it up the floor, he has a lot of game. And that’s our system. We drill and drill high-low, passing and playing together.”
Timme has made clear improvement on defense. He’s taken over the team lead with 27 blocks.
“The coaches have really challenged me and really helped me with my technique and footwork,” Timme said. “I feel like I’m a lot better defender, especially when I switch onto guards.”
Watching from afar, O’Neal isn’t surprised by Timme’s success.
“I’m seeing him scaling up, getting his rhythm and figuring it out,” O’Neal said. “I check him out all the time, but I try to stay in the back. It’s important for athletes to find their way. What I’m seeing in today’s era is so many trying to guide a kid through. Ultimately, they have to figure it out on their own and adjust.”
The two worked out over Christmas break and O’Neal was reminded of Timme’s sense of humor.
“He asked me if I was playing in the Big3 again,” O’Neal said. “Then he asked if I was going to stay in shape for our one-on-ones this summer.”
That’s Timme being Timme, which is a big reason why Timme came to Gonzaga.
“They loved who I was as a person, the energy and spunk that I bring,” he said. “They said, ‘We want you to be you, we need you to be you.’ That was huge for me.”
And for the Zags.
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