Dream on: Braintree's Timberlake finally was a big-time recruit; now he's Kansas-bound

Consider this the ultimate "I told you so."

Nick Timberlake fancied himself as a potential Division 1 college basketball player coming out of Braintree High in 2017. The rest of the basketball world seemed to strongly disagree.

Timberlake had no D1 offers. D2 schools were lukewarm as well.

Chastened, but not defeated, he headed off to Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire for a post-graduate year that he hoped would alter the narrative about his game.

"It was a shame," his dad, Jeff, a longtime Braintree High assistant coach, recalled. "He was very good in high school. Averaged 30 (points per game) his senior year. And all the smart schools around here didn't recruit him. All the Division 2 schools that we have around here could have had him. They said he couldn't play at that level."

"I was bummed out," his mom, Dineen, agreed. "I thought for sure, coming out of high school, maybe a D2 school (would offer him), but they didn't even want him."

Towson guard Nick Timberlake
Towson guard Nick Timberlake

Fast forward six years, and oh, boy, did lots of people suddenly want Nick Timberlake.

After a standout year at Kimball Union (he averaged 24 points per game) and five increasingly productive seasons at Division 1 Towson University in Maryland, Timberlake had blossomed into a 6-foot-4, 205-pound, sweet-shooting guard. This winter he averaged 17.7 points as a grad student in the Colonial Athletic Association, connecting on an eye-opening 42 percent of his 3-point attempts. He torched College of Charleston for 34 points and also hit for 32 (Hofstra), 31 (Hampton), 29 (Delaware) and 27 (UMass).

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With one remaining season of NCAA eligibility – thanks to the pandemic – Timberlake, 24, figured he would throw his name into the transfer portal. He expected 10-15 schools might show interest. Actual number: close to 70.

And that includes some major heavyweights.

After weighing his options, on April 19 Timberlake announced his choice: Kansas.

He'll head out there in just a few weeks to join a program that boasts four NCAA Division 1 championships, the most recent one in 2022.

Other Jayhawks you might remember: reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid of the 76ers; Golden State power forward Andrew Wiggins; former Celtics legends Jo Jo White and Paul Pierce; 14-year NBA vet Danny Manning; some guy named Wilt Chamberlain; ... and now Nick Timberlake.

"I'm waiting for someone to actually wake me up from my dream or something," Timberlake said by phone last week from Towson. "I can't believe it's happening. I can't believe I'm going to Kansas. It just doesn't make any sense."

Food for thought

Dineen Timberlake called her son's time in the transfer portal a "whirlwind," while Jeff likened it to "recruiting on steroids."

Although Kansas coach Bill Self didn't make it up to Braintree – they did several Zoom calls instead – there was a steady parade of big-time college coaches knocking on the Timberlakes' front door. Thad Matta of Butler. Hubert Davis of North Carolina. Mike Woodson of Indiana. Rick Pitino of St. John's. To name a few.

How do you entertain that particular clientele?

"It depended on what time it was," Jeff said. "We did donuts for one of the visits because it was early. We did bagels for one. I believe we had meatball subs for Indiana. They came in late so we actually gave them meatballs subs for dinner."

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Nick and his parents eventually made it out to Lawrence, Kansas, for a first-hand look. That might have sealed the deal, except ...

"I kind of fell in love with (Kansas) on the visit," Nick Timberlake said. "I was pretty excited when I left. Then again, I had UConn, too, so I still had to visit them. I left UConn and was even more excited. Every school I visited I was like, 'I can definitely see myself here.' Kansas definitely stood out a lot more, but the others were (impressive, too). I left UConn, flew back to Towson on a Saturday and I thought I was going to have my mind set that Monday or Tuesday, but then I woke up and I was like, 'I have no idea where I'm going.'

"It was a good problem to have, but it was also a very tough choice at the end. But I'm very happy with my decision and I have no regrets at the moment and I don't think I will. I mean, it's Coach Self. It's Kansas."

Monmouth guard Jack Collins works against Towson guard Nick Timberlake at SECU Arena in Towson, Maryland on Jan. 14, 2023.
Monmouth guard Jack Collins works against Towson guard Nick Timberlake at SECU Arena in Towson, Maryland on Jan. 14, 2023.

The Jayhawks are the NCAA's all-time winningest program (2,385 wins, 885 losses). They've been to 16 Final Fours and were runners-up six times in March Madness. They've qualified for 33 straight NCAA tournaments, last missing the dance in 1989. They also have 39 consecutive winning seasons, the longest active streak in D1.

Oh, and their first coach was James Naismith, another Massachusetts transfer (he was born in Canada) whose main claim to fame is that he invented the sport in Springfield – the site of the Basketball Hall of Fame that bears his name. Naismith actually is the only Jayhawks coach with a career losing record (55-60 from 1898-1907) but the KU folks don't seem to hold that against him. His name adorns the floor at iconic Allen Fieldhouse (capacity: 16,300) and Naismith's original rules of basketball (bought at auction for $4.3 million by a KU alumnus) are housed on campus.

"They have a whole shrine for him," Nick Timberlake said.

'A key piece to the class'

Timberlake's impact on KU basketball might not match Naismith's, but the Braintree High product is definitely not going out there to be a spectator. As he put it, "I wasn't trying to go sit on the bench and have court-side seats to a big-time game. I wanted to be able to play and be a part of it and see what I can do."

Luckily for him, Kansas is in transition. Jalen Wilson, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior who led the Big 12 in scoring (20.3 points per game) and rebounding (8.2 per game) last season, and 6-foot-8 freshman Gradey Dick, who was at 14.1/5.1, both have left for the NBA Draft. Self and Kansas have responded with a vengeance, pulling 7-foot-1 Michigan center Hunter Dickinson out of the transfer portal – he averaged 18.5/9.0 for the Wolverines last season – along with ex-Texas point guard Arterio Morris. Five-star point guard Elmarko Jackson (South Kent School in Connecticut) heads an impressive recruiting class.

Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds his team's play against Texas Tech during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds his team's play against Texas Tech during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Lest you think Timberlake will get lost amid all that incoming talent, this was Self's comment to the local media when Timberlake came on board: "Shooting was one of the things we needed to replace from last year’s team and with Nicolas we feel like we’ve done that. He’s a proven shooter.”

Kansas shot 34.7 percent from 3-point range last season and lost its No. 2 (Dick) and No. 3 (Wilson) long-range shooters. Dick was at 40.3 percent; Wilson was at 33.7 percent. Said Timberlake: "From what Coach Self is saying, he wants me to come in and replace Gradey (as a shooter). I was very excited and intrigued by that."

Timberlake's impending arrival has been well-received on social media.

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College hoops analyst Rob Dauster of @TheFieldof68 told his 42,000 Twitter followers: "One of the best guards in the portal, Nick Timberlake, is heading to Kansas. That's a really nice pickup for Bill Self. Shooter!" And @JayhawkSlant, which boasts almost 48,000 followers, declared: "Nick Timberlake was a big target from the beginning and is a key piece to the class."

So it appears that Timberlake will have the green light to fire away. Luckily for Kansas, that's kind of his thing. He left Towson as the program's No. 8 all-time scorer (1,522 points) and its career leader in 3-pointers made and attempted. His 3-point shooting percentage soared from 33 in his first full season there to 41 and 42 in his last two seasons.

That's the product of hard work. Timberlake estimates that he would hoist up 300-500 shots the night before a game.

"I know he's in the gym 24/7," said Timberlake's sister Adriana, a basketball star herself at both Braintree High (she won two state titles with the Wamps) and now at Division 2 Southern New Hampshire, where she averaged 16.5 ppg this past season en route to being named her conference's MVP. "There will be Friday nights where I know his friends are going out and he'll be in the gym. He needs to touch a basketball before doing anything. He's worked so hard on that. To see how far he's come is really cool."

Towson Tigers guard Nicolas Timberlake (25) dunks over Ohio State Buckeyes forward Zed Key (23) during the second half of the NCAA men's basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.
Towson Tigers guard Nicolas Timberlake (25) dunks over Ohio State Buckeyes forward Zed Key (23) during the second half of the NCAA men's basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

"The kid was absolutely religious about getting his shots up," said Towson coach Pat Skerry, a former head coach at Curry College and assistant at Stonehill. "He made himself into an excellent shooter. He was always a great athlete, but he made himself into an excellent shooter just because of the work that he puts in."

By the way, Skerry calls Timberlake "one of my all-time favorite guys," and says he'll be rooting for him at Kansas "a thousand percent, man."

World tour up next

Back in the day, Jeff Timberlake played in the NCAA Tournament. In 1988, his Boston University team, coached by Mike Jarvis, lost in the first round to a Duke squad that featured Danny Ferry, Quin Snyder (now coaching the Atlanta Hawks) and Phil Henderson. (Ironically, Kansas won it all that year.)

Jeff Timberlake, a lifelong basketball junkie, was "like a kid in a candy store" getting to talk to all the famous coaches during the transfer-portal recruiting, Nick said. "Oh, I had a blast," Jeff, a BC High grad, confirmed with a laugh. "I had more fun, I think, than he did."

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Nick Timberlake's fun will begin in earnest in mid-November when the Jayhawks kick off their season. They're scheduled to play Kentucky early on and then will head to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. There's a good chance they'll be the preseason No. 1 in the AP poll.

Amazing stuff for a kid who was ignored coming out of high school.

And Kansas might not be the end of Timberlake's basketball road. His next goal is to play professionally. Maybe not in the NBA, but Dr. Naismith's invention long ago went global.

Plenty of new worlds left to conquer.

"I figure I could have gone overseas this summer," Timberlake said, "but I had that extra year (of eligibility) so I might as well see (what high-level D1 ball is like). I could see myself playing anywhere in the world for a few years. That would be fun."

This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: For Braintree's Timberlake, Kansas basketball a dream scenario