NCAA tournament excites Timmins

Sam Timmins pulls in a rebound for Washington against Colorado during the Pac-12 tournament last...
Sam Timmins pulls in a rebound for Washington against Colorado during the Pac-12 tournament last week. Photo: Getty Images
It is March and Sam Timmins cannot wait to get involved in the madness.

The Otago centre will play his first game in the NCAA national tournament, also known as March Madness, on Saturday.

His Washington Huskies side faces Utah State in its first round game in Columbus, Ohio.

It is the first time an Otago player will appear in the tournament since Mark Dickel in 2000.

A hugely popular event _ last year's first round had a viewing audience of 8.6 million in the United States alone - 68 teams battle in a straight knockout competition for the national title.

It is notorious for upsets and the Huskies, seeded in the middle of the pack, have shown themselves capable of competing with the best.

That is not lost on an excited Timmins.

"It's March Madness, anything could happen,'' he said.

"If anything what we have proven to ourselves is if we're on we can give anyone a run for their money, no matter who they are.

"Also we have proven if we're not on anyone can give us a run for our money.

"So it's a matter of getting a good week of training in leading into the game in Columbus and making sure we're on top of our game.''

For Timmins it had been an "up and down'' season, at times playing well and at others seeing limited court time.

However, he was one of seven players to play in every game and had learnt a lot.

Washington had been dominant through much of conference play.

It won the Pac-12 regular season title, although was beaten comprehensively by Oregon in the conference tournament final.

One advantage Washington may have is its unique and very effective zone defence.

While the Pac-12 teams had experience against it, Washington's March Madness opponents do not.

That could be unsettling and Timmins felt it could work to the team's advantage.

He still finds it surreal that he ended up where he did - almost as far from the Otago Boys' High School gym as you could imagine.

"I've been doing that even before we made the tournament and before we started having successful seasons.

"I'd be running on the treadmill in the gym and be like 'I'm running on a treadmill at the University of Washington in Seattle at the moment and I'm from Dunedin, New Zealand, how did I end up here?'

"Having those surreal moments for me, it's nothing new.

"I suppose the magnitude keeps getting higher, but I'm always thinking back to how crazy it is coming from Dunedin and the wee OBs gym.''

The attention around the team had grown significantly with its success.

He lives with team mates Matisse Thybulle and David Crisp and they regularly get asked for photos and conversations around Seattle.

That contrasts with Timmins' first season, when the players were virtually anonymous in the city.

Making the tournament was special, although he was not sure it would top some of his achievements at home.

"For the American guys this is what they grew up dreaming about.

"While I definitely appreciate how cool an experience it is, I don't know if it's going to top some of those Otago national titles for me personally, in terms of what they meant to me.

"But it's definitely going to be up there in terms of milestones for me.''

Washington's first round game tips off at 11.50am on Saturday (NZT).

Other New Zealanders in the men's tournament are Jack Salt (Virginia), Matt Freeman (Oklahoma), Tobias Cameron (Abilene Christian), Quinn Clinton and Dan Fotu (both Saint Mary's).

Meanwhile in the women's division two tournament Otago's Zoe Richards' Eckerd College team is out after a first round loss to West Florida.

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