Dec. 21, 2000
by Ken Kleppel
Imagine living an ocean apart from your family and friends.
Or attending a boarding school on foreign soil.
Or speaking an unfamiliar language in order to communicate.
How about being only 17 years old while doing so?
And all for a dream.
Meet freshman center Tom Timmermans. For this 6-foot-11 inch Netherlands native, a childhood fantasy has proved way more valuable than just another passing goal.
"I always wanted to play basketball on a higher level," says Timmermans, who first played an organized game at 12 years of age only after dabbling with ice skating and soccer.
"As soon as I started to play, I had a dream of wanting to go to the United States for at least one year to see if I could compete. I am lucky now this being my third year here."
After an invite from a talent scout to play a summer of basketball for an AAU team in Virginia, Timmermans ventured across the Atlantic to Blue Ridge School in St. George. Parents Rineke and Theo, brother Onno, and sister Annemarie remained at home in Holland.
"Missing my family, of course, was the toughest transition in coming to America," says Timmermans.
"But my mom and sister came for my graduation from high school and my dad and brother came for some basketball games last year."
Timmermans would find little time to be homesick. A welcome breakthrough transpired immediately that would send Timmermans to Blue Ridge School.
"I was scouted in the Netherlands and then I was able to come here and play a summer of AAU Basketball in Virginia. The person who scouted me knew the coach at Blue Ridge and that is how I learned about the school. When I was there things started rolling. From there came high school, and from high school came
Immediately following that first summer, Timmermans played under coach Bill Ramsey and would letter twice. As a junior, he averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds per contest, while his squad posted a 19-6 record and appeared in the state semifinal game. Named team most valuable player in 1999, Timmermans averaged 15 points and nine rebounds and led the school to a victory in the state championship game.
"That state championship represents my top athletic accomplishment so far," says Timmermans.
In the summer of 1999, Timmermans earned a spot again with an AAU squad - this time on the adidas International Select team.
As was the case for former AAU athletes such as Magic Johnson, Senator Bill Bradley, and Shaquille O'Neal, the summer competition provided a stepping stone towards collegiate recognition.
Yet choosing Notre Dame was a relatively easy decision.
"I really liked it. In fact, when I came here to visit the weather was nice," says a smiling Timmermans who was also heavily recruited by California, Oregon, Southern Methodist and Tennessee.
"I liked the school, I liked the things they told me about it. One of the major reasons that I chose Notre Dame was for its international recognition. A degree from Notre Dame will
make it a lot easier to get a job in Europe."
Currently enrolled in the First Year of Studies, Timmermans intends to major in management at the Mendoza College of Business.
But he already carries a business-like approach to his studies on the hard court.
"This year, when I come into the games I just want to play hard and when I practice I want to practice hard," says Timmermans. "I want to make other players play as hard as they can too."
Junior forward Troy Murphy has noticed improvement.
"I remember first meeting him on his official visit. He's gotten a lot bigger and I think he can be a real physical presence as he gets older. He has the best post-moves of anybody on the team. He can shoot the ball from the outside and is just real tough to match up against."
The first cager from the Netherlands to play at Notre Dame and the third European player to join the Irish roster in the last two seasons, Timmermans provides the Irish with depth in an already talent-laden front court.
Playing a combined 14 minutes over the course of four games, and scoring in all but one of those contests, Timmermans understands his role in 2000-2001 and still points to the future with optimism.
"This being my freshman year, I just want to learn a lot. In the long term I hope to play professional basketball somewhere," Timmermans says.
For Timmermans, the chemistry with his teammates made an immediate impact.
"Everybody kind of helps each other out," says Timmermans.
"It just depends on the situation as to who actually does what. We are a pretty close team. We are all friends and we all hang out with each other even if we aren't playing basketball."
Most likely sophomore forward Jere Macura and sophomore center Ivan Kartelo are able to give Timmermans a few extra pointers.
Natives of Split, Croatia, Macura and Kartelo made a similar transition from Europe to Notre Dame and are now capitalizing upon a full year of practice.
"When you are from Europe, this is a totally different way of living, a different culture," says Macura.
"Last year was my first year here in the United States. This is Tom's third year. It definitely takes some time to get used to."
Kartelo views Timmermans' extra few years of American residency as a true benefit.
"When I first saw him play, he seemed to be pretty quick for a guy his size," says Kartelo.
"He is very confident with the kids that are playing here. Having two years in the United States is an advantage."
"I think it is a little bit easier, hanging out with them because they've been to Europe and come from a similar situation as I am in. They're cool guys to talk to and learn from," says Timmermans.
Macura offers another take.
"To me he has grown up a lot. When I first saw him, he was a big European kid who did not speak much and was shy. Two months later, he is a totally different person. He is a great guy. He can shoot. He can dribble and he can score. I think he is going to be a good player. He is a hard worker and a big boy."
Timmermans is adjusting to college just as well off the court.
A resident of Keough Hall, living in the dorm has been his top takeaway from the first semester.
"I really like dorm life and the people around me. Everybody there is just great. I even have a fantastic roommate," Timmermans says.
Such a sense of fellowship has motivated Timmermans toward involvement in the greater community.
Just after completing his final day of classes before exams, Timmermans joined dozens of other Notre Dame student-athletes by participating in a Christmas party for children staying at nearby Memorial Hospital.
Throughout the evening, he greeted the wide-eyed children at the door, and helped them paste frosting on cookies, decorate cards and play musical chairs. But just before the youngsters visited with Santa Claus, the merry group decided to decorate the near seven-footer as a Christmas tree complete with ribbons, bows, ornaments and a star on top.
As the crowd at Notre Dame's Monogram Room laughed at such an awkward site, Timmermans himself smiled ear to ear.
"That was something else. It was so nice to see everybody have a good time."
Standing as the tallest man on campus, even to the admission of Kartelo, a keen sense of humor has come in handy so far.
With trance/techno as his favorite style of music and a soccer club in Amsterdam as his favorite sports team, Timmermans jokes about the biggest difference between the United States and the Netherlands.
"The Netherlands is a lot smaller. Traveling five hours is nothing in the United States, but when I travel five hours back home I am in Paris."
Timmermans is unsure if he will return to live in Europe, but is certain of the secret to his success thus far in the United States.
"My parents, my brother an my sister have been behind me in everything I do," says Timmermans. "My basketball coaches have always been there for me."
A hard working athlete committed to long-term improvement on the court and a maturing freshman off of it, Timmermans seems to have everything in perspective.
"Even in Europe they say the United States is the land to be in. I just wanted to have a taste of it. I was so lucky to get over here because of basketball in the first place. I am looking forward to the rest of the ride."
Imagine how far you would go in pursuit of your dream.
Timmermans did just that and then acted upon it.
Now he will try to push that dream a little further.