Sam Timmins Making Case to Top Talented New Zealand Recruiting Class

Jeff Cheshire@@jeff_cheshireAnalyst IIApril 4, 2015

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 21:  A view of the backboard, rim and net during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Consol Energy Center on March 21, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Sam Timmins has flown under the radar for a long time on the New Zealand basketball scene. Indeed it often takes the rest of the country a while to pick up on talent in the nation's south. Think Ben Smith, think Richie McCaw, think Brendon McCullum. Even after gaining national recognition, though, it is then just as hard to become noticed internationally.

It certainly seems to have been the case for this talented basketball prospect from Otago. Despite having been a regular feature in national age group and three-on-three teams in recent years, he has never had quite the same profile as his counterparts up north. 

Listed as 6' 10", the 17-year-old centre has begun to separate himself in possibly the most talented high school class New Zealand has ever produced.

After battling a back injury that saw him miss the entire 2014 NBL season, he returned late in the year to lead Otago Boys' High School to the National Schools Championship. Timmins was named tournament MVP and joined teammates Joe Cook-Green and Liam Aston on the Tournament Team.

His performances in the final two games were outstanding. In the semifinal he matched a heavily favoured Rangitoto HS front line that contains Yuat Alok and Tai Wynyard; the same Tai Wynyard who signed with Kentucky earlier this year.

It was no surprise to the basketball community in New Zealand's south, many of whom have believed this current crop of youngsters was just as good as what was being produced up north.

He is not the physically dominant athlete you see in the likes of Wynyard and Steven Adams. You would not call him weak, as he rarely gets pushed around in the post, but it is not the defining feature of his game like so many New Zealand big men.

Instead it is his intelligence and skill level that impress. 

In the post he has all the moves. Possessing nice touch to finish with either hand, his elegant footwork makes him a tough opponent to stop. Undoubtedly the most attractive feature of his game is his smooth step-through, while his spin moves to either side and ability to face up give him versatility. He even has a handy mid-range game.

His footwork is not limited to the offensive end, however, making use of it to shut down his opponent on defence, meaning players struggle to get off good shots against him. If that fails, he is a handy rim protector too.

On the boards he is strong on both ends, often nabbing easy points by cleaning the offensive glass and putting the ball back in, a skill that means his guards can shoot more confidently.

He runs well in transition, virtually a prerequisite in Otago teams of the past three years, complementing the fast, high-intensity guards he has played with.

There is a lot to like about his game, and after his performances upon coming back from injury last year, there are those who believe he has surpassed Wynyard as the best player in his class. That really is still up in the air, as both are exceptionally good players with bright futures.

At the tender age of 15, Timmins became the youngest Otago Nugget ever, surpassing the record set by former UNLV All-American point guard Mark Dickel. Indeed, it was alongside Dickel that Timmins has flourished, having returned to New Zealand in both playing and coaching capacities. 

Mark Dickel was the youngest Nugget ever until Timmins made his debut in 2013.
Mark Dickel was the youngest Nugget ever until Timmins made his debut in 2013.Rob Jefferies/Getty Images

After financial difficulties forced the Nuggets to withdraw from the league this year, Dickel took up a coaching job at the neighbouring Canterbury Rams. He was followed by a number of Otago's top basketball prospects, Timmins being one.

On Friday night, he made his Rams debut, playing 20 minutes in his first NBL start, splitting minutes with former NBA power forward Mickell Gladness. Timmins made use of his time, putting up 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds, while shooting 9-of-12 from the field.

They are impressive numbers, going up against former Australian NBL forward Jeremiah Trueman. More to the point, few 17-year-old high school players could so successfully split minutes with someone who has played in the NBA in the past three years.

The sky is the limit for the centre. The scary thing is, he has potential to get so much better. Those of us who have seen his development over the past four years from a raw player with a big body to a genuinely skillful, intelligent player have seen just how impressive his ability to improve himself is.

Perhaps that comes from being in a sporting family. His father, Brendon Timmins, played 100 matches at provincial level for Otago and Southland between 1992 and 2002, while also being the first-choice lock for the Highlanders for many years and turning out for New Zealand A, the team one step below the All Blacks.

Brendon Timmins scored the first try in Otago's 49-20 thrashing of Waikato in the 1998 NPC Final.
Brendon Timmins scored the first try in Otago's 49-20 thrashing of Waikato in the 1998 NPC Final.Phil Walter/Getty Images

A legend on New Zealand's domestic rugby scene from an era full of great players who did not crack the nation's top team, Brendon's shadow is a big one for Sam to emerge from. But he seems to be doing it just fine, and in a few years time, it may not be a surprise to see Brendon referred to as Sam's father, rather than the other way around.

Only time will tell, though. He has another year of high school to go and looks to be set to play a large role on a Canterbury Rams team that will compete to win the NBL.

That there are many who do not even rate him as the No. 1 high school player in the country is more a sign of New Zealand's great strides in the sport over the past decade. Never have they had a class with such depth, with Matt Freeman, Joe Cook-Green, Shou Nisbet, Yuat Alok and Wynyard all as good as most New Zealanders to play Division I college basketball in the past decade.

Even John Calipari has taken notice. But if Wynyard is good enough to secure a scholarship from college basketball's best recruiting school, it begs the question where Timmins might end up.  

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