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Defining his role

Matt Lozar | Friday, February 6, 2004

Tom Timmermans isn’t your typical 6-foot-11, 270-pound center.He wows fans with no-look passes and isn’t afraid to shoot the 3-pointer from the top of the key.But he also does the conventional big man things like dropping point guards with monster picks and being the main enforcer down low for the Irish.”I enjoy that part of being physical. It’s necessary in the Big East,” Timmermans said. “But sometimes when I have an open shot from wherever it is on the floor, I’ll take it.”It’s a multi-dimensional role Timmermans has developed in his senior season with the Irish – a senior season that had a very good chance of not being this productive. Frustrations abound

Timmermans played 31 minutes in Notre Dame’s opening exhibition game against the Hoop Group. Timmermans played in only two of the next eight contests for a total of 15 minutes.His back injury, which Timmermans said “just kind of sneaked in there,” was forcing the senior co-captain to watch from the bench as the Irish dropped below .500 for the first time under coach Mike Brey. Timmermans had worked in the off-season to cut down on acquiring quick fouls and getting into early foul trouble as he often did in his first three years at Notre Dame. He was trying to become a major contributor for the Irish.But his back wasn’t cooperating – and there was nothing Timmermans could do about it.”It was definitely really frustrating,” Timmermans said. “It’s your senior year, you want to play and you want to be out there, and then your body doesn’t want to go.”Timmermans wasn’t the only one frustrated. Combine Timmermans’ injury with Rick Cornett’s early season injury and freshman Omari Israel recovering from off-season knee injury, and Brey was limited to basically two big men.Brey became so concerned about the lack of depth in the paint that he asked freshman tight end John Carlson to pull double duty and join the basketball team, even just to be a practice body.”I was frustrated we didn’t have him early this year,” Brey said. “But he’s an example of what a senior should do.”Timmermans worked with the coaches and the training staff not to rush back from the injury. After battling his back for about a month, Timmermans was able to ease his way back into the lineup at the end of Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule. By the time the Big East schedule rolled around, Timmermans was ready to go.

Breaking out

The opportunity for Timmermans to assume a major contributing role with the Irish began before the season started. When Brey answered questions about who his core group of players would be in 2003-04, Timmermans was one of those six players Brey always talked about.The back injury was the only thing restraining Timmermans. When Timmermans was finally healthy entering Big East play, he played 10 minutes against West Virginia, 19 at Villanova and 24 at Pittsburgh. Then came Syracuse and its notorious 2-3 zone.Timmermans broke it down perfectly.”I’ve always been pretty good with the ball and making good decisions,” Timmermans said. “With Syracuse and their zone, the high post is going to be open with a lot of space and opportunities to make those kind of passes. I made the passes and other people knocked them down.”Timmermans camped out at the high post, which is always open in the 2-3 zone. As Notre Dame’s guards got Timmermans the ball, he scanned the rest of the Irish offense and made passes rivaling those of the best guards in the country to the open players.On that night, it wasn’t just the passing ability of Timmermans that was on display. He registered career highs in points, assists and minutes while tying his career high in rebounds.What Timmermans would display on a daily basis in practice became public and allowed him to become a Joyce Center fan favorite.”In practice, I always knew he had a lot of talent,” senior co-captain Torrian Jones said. “He had a nice shooting touch and dribble moves. “Now you can see what he’s capable of doing.”That unique package for a collegiate center Timmermans exhibited at Syracuse is something the Irish haven’t had for a long time – a post player who will commit the hard foul, will thread the needle with a pass to hit the open man and isn’t afraid to throw up a 3-pointer from the top of the key.It’s the on the court role Timmermans has grown into with the Irish.”It definitely helps having somebody who can get the ball in the low post and pass it back out to someone who is spotting up,” Timmermans said. “Being able to pass it out for a 3-pointer is very important.”

Changing his dreams

When Timmermans was growing up in the Netherlands, he had a childhood dream.It wasn’t to be a Division I basketball player.”I did do a little speed skating back in the day,” Timmermans said with a smile.Two factors kept Timmermans from pursuing that dream – he grew to be 6-foot-11 and speed skating was done outside.While still in school in the Netherlands, he participated in school sports and developed an attraction for the game of basketball. He completed his high school career playing basketball for two years at a high school in St. George, Va.In terms of his dislike of cold weather, the harsh climate in South Bend couldn’t keep him away from a top school offering basketball and solid academics. “I’m definitely not liking the snow up here, but with the school and the basketball program here, the climate can’t do anything about that,” Timmermans said.Timmermans admits his time in the United States has changed him. His family says he has become “Americanized” and his Dutch isn’t as good as it used to be. Timmermans has become more mature over his four years at Notre Dame and that became evident when he earned the distinction of a captain in the preseason.Just like developing into a role on the court, Timmermans knows his role as a captain as well. “We have the voice in Torrian. I’m not always the one that pumps them up. But I will be the one that says something when it is quiet or when nobody is saying anything,” Timmermans said. “I’ll be the one saying, get the loose balls, do the physical stuff and lead by example on the floor by doing that stuff.”Combine three previous years of waiting with the early-season injury, and the result is a basketball player who never gave up during his career at Notre Dame.It’s something Brey can show to other players as something to strive for when everything isn’t going the way one hopes.”He’s a good example of how a player progresses in your program,” Brey said.