As a child, Nicolas Timberlake had so much energy in his family’s home in Braintree, Massachusetts, that his parents nicknamed him after a character from the popular children’s book series “Winnie the Pooh.”
“We called him ‘Tigger’ because he literally bounced around the house,” father Jeff Timberlake said with a laugh. “He actually has a little stuffed doll of Tigger in his room.”
Those hops might have prophesied Nicolas Timberlake’s road to the Towson men’s basketball program, where the 6-foot-4, 205-pound graduate student has evolved into a star. He leads the team this season in scoring (17.1 ppg) and minutes (36) and ranks second in assists (2.4 apg) and fifth in rebounds (3.9 rpg).
Timberlake, who appears poised to be a repeat All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team shooting guard, is a major reason the Tigers (17-8, 9-3 CAA) sit in third place in the conference and are just 1 1/2 games behind the College of Charleston (23-3, 11-2) and Hofstra (18-8, 11-2) in the race for the regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
“I love him,” said coach Pat Skerry, who guided Towson to its first CAA regular-season title last winter. “We’ve had success before he got here, but I think he’s taken us to greater heights, especially in the CAA, and hopefully, we can get the cherry on top of the sundae. Can we win the regular-season title and get the conference title? He’s a big part of the reason why we’re in a position for both of those.”
Timberlake’s emergence might have seemed unlikely considering his start in life. He was born 24 years ago with a cleft lip and palate that devastated his parents. But Dineen Timberlake said she was encouraged by a doctor who met them and their 1-month-old son.
“He told us, ‘Do not not go out. Your child is your child, and people are going to stare and look, but be proud of who your son is,’” she recalled. “I just always made sure that he knew to stand proud, and he has.”
Jeff Timberlake said their son had nine operations before he turned 1 and five more afterward, including a jaw realignment procedure two years ago. The only sign of the surgeries is a scar above Nicolas’ upper right lip.
Although some kids teased him about the cleft lip, Timberlake said he learned how to defuse those situations.
“It never really bothered me because, in a way, I thought it was cool that I was born with a birth defect,” he said. “As much as I had to deal with the hospitals and everything, I was just different from everyone else. So I think that helped me be the person I am today.”
Timberlake found his comfort level in sports. With a father who played basketball at Boston University and a mother whose brothers and cousins played ice hockey at New England schools such as Boston College, Fairfield, New Hampshire and Suffolk, he picked up both sports at the age of 3.
As a sixth grader, Timberlake made the decision to concentrate on basketball over hockey. But despite averaging 30 points as a senior at Braintree High, Timberlake went unrecruited. So he agreed to attend a prep school in New Hampshire and drew the attention of Bryant, Elon, Towson and Vermont.
Per suggestions from Fairfield coach and friend Jay Young and special assistant Kevin Clark, who worked with Jeff Timberlake on former George Washington coach Mike Jarvis’ staff, Skerry scouted Timberlake and his team at a tournament in 2017. Skerry was sold.
“With three minutes to go, they were getting their butts kicked, but he was still playing hard and getting into pushing matches,” Skerry said. “He wears it on his sleeve. So I loved his athleticism, which is easy to love, and his competitiveness.”
Timberlake played just nine games as a freshman in 2018-19 before a stress fracture in his foot shut him down for the remainder of the season. A year later, he averaged 6.1 points and 3.5 rebounds and was named the CAA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
During a 2020-21 season abbreviated by the coronavirus pandemic, Timberlake averaged 12.1 points and 3.9 rebounds while being the only player to start all 18 games. Immediately after the season, he underwent surgery for bone spurs in his ankle.
Last winter was Timberlake’s breakout season, as he averaged 14.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists and led the Tigers in points scored, field goals and 3-pointers. This season, he is enjoying career highs in points, assists and field-goal percentage.
Timberlake is far removed from the high school player who coaches derided as a poor shooter. He said he has tried to shed that reputation by taking 350 to 500 shots on non-game days and working with assistant coach Parfait Bitee.
“I’m kind of obsessed with it at this point,” he said with a smile. “And with not having many games left, I feel like I’ve got to do it just for myself to know that I didn’t let anything slip away.”
Timberlake has scored 63 points in back-to-back games against Hofstra and Hampton, and Skerry said the team will continue to lean on Timberlake. And with senior point guard Jason Gibson out for the remainder of the season because of a back injury, Timberlake’s contributions might be even more crucial.
That pressure doesn’t faze Timberlake.
“I’ve heard it the whole year,” he said. “I kind of had an idea since last season [when] I was on the first team. So the pressure has been on my shoulders, but it doesn’t bother me at all.”
Towson at Drexel
Saturday, 2 p.m.