While growing up in Dunedin, New Zealand, Sam Timmins never dreamed of playing college basketball in the United States.
The big burly kid with the broad shoulders seemed destined to follow his father Brendon, a top rugby player.
And admittedly, Timmins had never heard of Seattle or the University of Washington until the Huskies recruited the prodigious 17-year-old prospect in 2015.
“At that time, I wanted to be an All Black and play rugby,” he said, referring to New Zealand’s popular national team. “The basketball thing happened later in life. I ended up just playing it with some of my mates and it was fun and I ended up falling in love with it and enjoying it more than rugby.
“And even after I chose basketball, I didn’t realize America was even like a way you could go until my coach kind of told me about it and I was like, oh yeah, let’s do that. A lot of kids grow up with that being their dream the whole way, when that really wasn’t me. At the same time, it was just as surreal an experience to get over here.”
Five years later, UW’s favorite Kiwi reflects on his unconventional journey as he readies for his final home game, a rematch with cross-state rival Washington State at 6 p.m. Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I definitely feel seasoned at this point,” said Timmins, 22. “It’s really crazy to think back to not even my freshman year, but even before that when I first got on campus. … It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around that because it feels so long ago, but at the same time it doesn’t.”
The 6-foot-11, 265-pound forward, who received interest from UCLA, California and Pittsburgh, placed his faith in his New Zealand national team coach Mark Dickel, a former UNLV honorable-mention All-American who had a friendship with then-UW coach Lorenzo Romar and favored Washington.
“I had committed here before my visit,” Timmins said. “When I got here it was me and my Dad in December 2015. We were both wide-eyed the whole time looking around. I couldn’t believe that this was a university facility, because university sports is barely even a thing in New Zealand, let alone the scale that it is over here.
“Just going through the facilities and the stuff and the academic stuff and walking through campus … and to come halfway across the world and then have two days to experience it and then go back. My Mom was just worrying the whole time. It was a very overwhelming experience. Exciting, obviously.”
It certainly hasn’t been dull.
Timmins has endured the highs and lows of an unlikely career that in many ways has come full circle to where he’s enjoying a little bit of personal success while Washington (13-15, 3-12 Pac-12) wraps up a disappointing season.
As a freshman, he started 17 of 30 games while enduring a 9-22 season that included a 2-16 record in the Pac-12, a last-place conference finish and a 13-game losing streak that’s the longest in school history.
Following Romar’s removal, Timmins was a central figure in Mike Hopkins’ restoration plans. He started all 34 games as a sophomore and averaged 4.3 points and 4.6 rebounds — both career highs — on a team that compiled a 21-13 record and advanced to the second round of the NIT.
“Sammy is a guy who is obviously loyal and stayed with us when he could have left,” Hopkins said. “Won a lot of games for us. I’ll always remember the Kansas game and the celebration of what he did helping us win there. Helping us at USC (when) had a reverse dunk. He had so many great moments.”
However, Timmins lost his starting job as a junior when the Huskies went on to win the Pac-12 regular-season title and end an eight-year NCAA tournament drought.
This season, Timmins is averaging just 2.0 points as well as 1.5 rebounds and 7.8 minutes — both career lows — off the bench.
But last week Timmins received his first start as a senior and collected a season-high six rebounds. Two days later, he tallied nine points on 3-for-3 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks in an 87-52 win over California that snapped UW’s nine-game losing streak.
“Seeing right him now … playing with a lot of confidence and getting an opportunity is a big part of it,” Hopkins said. “We believe that we can play two bigs together.
“Sammy is a guy who just needs that confidence. … But once you see that consistency and that spark like you’re seeing now it only helps us and gets the crowd involved and brings positive energy in the building for sure. Fan favorite.”
It’s difficult not to root for someone like Timmins, the last man standing from UW’s 2016 recruiting class highlighted by Markelle Fultz that also included Carlos Johnson and Bitumba Baruti. (Timmins signed in January 2015 and was able to be with the team during the final four months of the 2015-16 season). Fultz spent just one year with the Huskies before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, while Johnson and Baruit transferred after their sophomore seasons.
Timmins, who says he never considered leaving UW early, said the highlight of his career was granting his father’s request and flushing a reverse dunk at USC, plus winning a Pac-12 title.
“And all the relationships that I’ve been able to make with people from all parts of the world that I wouldn’t have been able to make if I didn’t come here,” he said. “Probably that’s more special than any of it, really.”
Timmins, on track to obtain a communications degree, plans to pursue a professional career in basketball.
“I still love the game of basketball just as much when I first got here and I want to keep playing until I can’t anymore,” he said. “So I’ll definitely be trying to do that.”