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How Nick Timberlake's past prepared him for his Kansas debut

KU guard expects exhibition matchup with Fort Hays State to give him a true taste of Kansas basketball

4 min read
Kansas guard Nick Timberlake, along with seven teammates, will be playing his first actual game inside Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday night, when the Jayhawks host Fort Hays State in their exhibition finale. [Chance Parker photo]

With his first game inside Allen Fieldhouse a little more than 24 hours away, KU guard Nick Timberlake slipped into the KU media room quietly, took his seat at the podium and waited for the questions to come his way.

It’s a relatively new experience for the senior transfer from Towson, who said he had a couple of reporters show up to practices from time to time at his old school but “nothing like this.”

“It’s pretty cool,” he added.

Talking to reporters about the Jayhawks’ exhibition finale against Fort Hays State on Wednesday night — 7 p.m. on ESPN+ — Timberlake was asked about KU’s 3-point shooting, transition offense, what he expected from himself and how the competition for the fifth starting spot was shaping up.

All of that’s important and all of it will play itself out in front of the adoring eyes of 16,300 Kansas fans who have been waiting to get back into the Fieldhouse for live-game action for more than seven months.

But Timberlake will get just one opportunity to play a first game at Allen Fieldhouse, and he’s both excited and ready for the opportunity.

“I thought Late Night was a great experience,” Timberlake said Tuesday. “And then, I’m hearing from everyone that that was nothing compared to a home game. So, I'm even more excited to see what it's actually like on a game day.”

Timberlake’s first experience with college basketball was similar to what he’ll experience Wednesday night, if not maybe even a little more hostile.

Still reeling from a devastating, first-of-its-kind loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the opening round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers waited months to get back onto the court and get that taste out of their mouths.

Waiting for them when it finally happened was Timberlake’s Towson squad, which went to Charlottesville, Virginia to take on the nation’s 5th-ranked team.

Then just a freshman, Timberlake started that night, and although there are parts of it he’ll never forget, there are also moments he won’t ever know.

“We get there like two-and-a-half hours before and there’s already 18,000 people in there,” he recalled on Tuesday. “The first two media (timeouts), I don’t remember a single thing.”

Timberlake and Towson played UVA tough in the first half, trailing just by just nine points at the break.

“And then they turned into the national champions that they were and blew us out in the second half,” Timberlake said of the crew led by Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter that went on to win the 2019 NCAA title. “I know it’s going to be a little bit better here than it was in Virginia.”

Asked what he learned during his first ever college games — and the series of firsts that have followed it — that might serve him well in his KU debut on Wednesday, Timberlake pointed to preparation.

“Just knowing how to calm down for games, becoming less stressed,” he said. “Letting my butterflies just get out before I get onto the court is kind of like a big thing, and just being more mature than I was my freshman year.”

Even though his 2023-24 roster features eight players who have never played an actual game at Allen, KU coach Bill Self said he wouldn’t spend too much talking about ways to prepare for it in the hours leading up to tipoff.

“I’ll probably let them feel it for themselves,” Self said. “We may mention it, but it won’t be a big deal.”

Pregame Notes:

• Kansas is coming off an 82-75, exhibition loss at No. 25 Illinois on Oct. 29. The contest was originally scheduled as a secret scrimmage, but the two sides agreed to make the game a fundraiser to provide relief for the devastating wildfires on Maui.

• The Fort Hays State game is actually Kansas’ fifth exhibition game this season. Besides the Illinois contest, the Jayhawks went 2-1 in three exhibition contests in Pureto Rico in early August. KU senior Hunter Dickinson led the team with 19 points and 7 rebounds per game in Puerto Rico. Point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. led KU with 6.7 assists per contest and 3.6 steals per game.

• Fort Hays State is coming off a 21-9 season where it tied for third in the MIAA with a 15-7 league record. Wednesday's game at Allen Fieldhouse, which will not count on either team's record, will be FHSU's first of the 2023-24 season.

• Kansas leads the overall series with Fort Hays State, 12-0, including a mark of 9-0 in exhibition play. These two teams last met Oct. 24, 2019, when KU won 86-56 in Allen Fieldhouse.

• KU, which enters the season as the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the AP poll, has been ranked in the AP top 10 in each of the last 39 polls dating back to the 2021-22 preseason poll. The 39 consecutive polls is the longest active streak in men’s college basketball.

• Kansas is 94-11 all-time in exhibition games. The Jayhawks are 62-4 in exhibition games under Self.

• Kansas is celebrating 126 years of men’s basketball in 2023-24.

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