LAS VEGAS — When he first arrived at Gonzaga, Drew Timme earned a nickname from coach Mark Few.
“Dumbass,” he revealed. “Pretty fitting.”
These days, though, Few is calling Timme something different: One of the greatest college basketball players of the modern era. In fact, this week at the West Regional, he’s mentioned it in two sessions with the media.
“I don’t think enough people are saying it,” Few said.
In an era where so few elite level players stay in college for four years, Timme’s longevity and production are unquestioned. After coming off the bench as a freshman, Gonzaga’s big man has posted scoring averages of 19.0, 18.4 and 21.5 while shooting 62 percent over the course of his career.
And Timme has done it on teams that won big and advanced deep in the NCAA men’s tournament, including the 2021 national championship game.
But Timme may still be one win short of getting the kind of recognition that Few believes he deserves. He’ll have the chance to get it Saturday when No. 3 Gonzaga faces No. 4 seed UConn at T-Mobile Arena with a Final Four berth on the line.
“He just delivers,” Few said. “He delivers in games we need him and nobody hears about it maybe during our league time where we’re struggling. Then he delivers night in, night out in the biggest moments on the biggest stage in the NCAA Tournament.”
Aside from two missed free throws in crunch time Thursday that nearly proved costly, Timme delivered again against UCLA in the regional semifinal with 36 points on an array of post moves, jump hooks and almost unguardable drives to the rim. Even for a player who has regularly posted big numbers in the NCAA Tournament, including a couple other 30-point performances, it was a Timme masterpiece in a game Gonzaga needed to come from behind to win.
Gonzaga will need that again with Timme matched up against 6-foot-9, 240-pound Adama Sanogo, whose looming presence on both ends of the floor and on the glass has made UConn one of the toughest teams to play against this season.
And it’s the exact kind of matchup that Timme’s detractors will be watching closely. Because for all the numbers and wins, there’s still an image of Timme getting a bit exposed by Baylor’s tenacity and physicality in the national title game two years ago.
Maybe that’s not totally fair – it was only one game, and it was against a great team – but his lack of impact that night (12 points, five rebounds) was the kind of big-stage disappointment that can follow a player for a long time.
Few strongly pushes back against the idea that Timme’s reputation should have taken a hit based on that game. Some of the criticism may be rooted in Timme’s personality and his aesthetic on the court with the goofy looking headband and facial hair. We all know he’s good. But is he a serious basketball player?
“With his humor, he takes the edge off maybe in moments when you’re coming back from a tough loss or a tough game,” Few said. “Drew can always drop it down a couple notches and maybe make it feel like it’s not life or death. He’s got a great gift with that. And I think because he’s like that, people grossly underestimate the ferocious competitor that he is.”
Regardless of what you think of Timme as a college player or a pro prospect, the reality is that he’s just a massively skilled, impactful presence who has gotten significantly better throughout the course of his career.
And in this tournament, he’s dominated everything in his wake with 28 points in a tough second-round game against TCU and followed it up with an unstoppable effort against UCLA.
Though he’s got one year of eligibility left, Timme has said publicly that four years at Gonzaga is enough. Whether or not he has a future in the NBA, it’s time to move on.
Whenever the end comes, Timme will no longer carry the nickname Few gave him as a freshman. But if he leads Gonzaga back to the Final Four, calling him one of college basketball’s all-time greats will be undisputed.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken