Latest role change can’t slow Tulane’s Kendall Timmons

NEW ORLEANS — After five years of adjustments, Tulane forward Kendall Timmons is preparing for one final change.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, the senior will be on the Devlin Fieldhouse floor for the last time when Tulane hosts Houston. It completes a winding road that thrust Timmons into a variety of roles under a pair of coaches, revealing lessons not only about his versatility but also his character.

“At first I just thought of (Saturday) like any other game and how we need to get a win, but now I’m starting to see it as a time for reflection,” he said. “I get teased about how long I’ve been here since it’s half of a decade. And when I think about the transitions I’ve had to make since I first got here to now, it really makes it feel even longer.”

Transforming from a bench player to the No. 1 scoring option is typically a long journey on its own, and often it’s the last change a standout college basketball player has to overcome. For Timmons, it was only the first.

After earning his place as Tulane’s top scoring choice, he witnessed the Green Wave undergo a coaching change, forcing him to evaluate his diminishing role before fighting back from an injury and finding comfort as a facilitator and defender en route to the school’s first winning season since 2007-08.

“I had to learn to adjust from being a guy who got every opportunity in high school to being on the bench and then kind of quickly turned into that first option where teams were strategizing to stop me every night,” Timmons said. “Then an injury happens, and I’m trying to get back to where I think I should be physically. And now I’m just fighting through a year that’s been tough for me because I was a go-to guy and now I had to really embrace the role of being the stability that Coach and the rest of the guys need.”

His path to Tulane (18-12, 6-9 Conference USA) began with a meteoric rise, signing as a relatively unknown prospect out of Southwest High in Fort Worth, Texas, before vaulting his team to the state final as he earned Class 4A Player of the Year honors. He averaged 18.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists as a senior.

“Nobody really knew about him, and then all of a sudden he just emerged as this ridiculous athlete,” said former Tulane director of basketball operations Yotam Yemini, who helped recruit Timmons as part of former coach Dave Dickerson’s staff. “We got a steal.”

It didn’t take long for Timmons to make Tulane fans feel the same way. After rarely seeing the floor in his first month, Timmons was quietly promoted into the starting lineup a few games before surging for 18 points in a loss at George Mason in December 2008.

But just when it looked like his career was ready to take off, it ground to a halt. A back injury forced him to miss the rest of Tulane’s 14-17 season and work his way up from the bench the following year.

As Tulane floundered to an 8-22 record and with Dickerson’s job in jeopardy, Timmons stood out as the program’s hope as a redshirt freshman in 2009-10. After receiving minimal playing time in the first few months, he emerged as the team’s leading scorer and shot blocker and second-best rebounder in conference play.

But again, right as Timmons found his stride, there was an interruption. After the season, Dickerson was fired, and new coach Ed Conroy came to Tulane from The Citadel, bringing an offense known for shattering 3-point records — not Timmons’ strength.

“It was tough at the time, and I thought really hard about leaving,” Timmons said. “Coach Dickerson and his staff put a lot of faith in me, and they had a lot of hope for me and what I can do for the program. He was all I knew coming out of high school. I also didn’t know about Coach Conroy and thought he just wanted a bunch of guys to shoot.

“I was going to leave and go somewhere closer to home so my family could see more of my games. To me, playing for Coach Conroy wasn’t an option, and I really didn’t want to stick around to give him a chance. But I talked to him some and I felt more comfortable, and it all really worked out.”

Timmons flourished in his first year under Conroy — leading the Green Wave in scoring and rebounding to earn a spot on the All-Conference USA second team. But the pieces around him weren’t productive enough for Tulane to improve, and it finished at the bottom of C-USA again at 13-17.

Finally, everything appeared to come together last year. Timmons received some help from freshman Ricky Tarrant and N.C. State transfer Josh Davis, who relieved him of some of the scoring burden and diversified Tulane’s attack to help the Green Wave start 12-2.

Then, another screeching halt. In an overtime loss to Southern Miss in January 2012, Timmons tore his Achillies tendon, costing him the rest of the season and sending Tulane into a tailspin that ended with a 15-16 record and last-place finish in C-USA.

“He had everything going and had the team around him to make something happen,” Tulane announcer Todd Graffagnini said. “He worked his way all the way back through that previous injury, and then to have that happen was terrible.”

By the time Timmons completed his rehab, Tarrant and Davis had meshed on the court, becoming focal points of the offense. Timmons struggled to get back to full speed — lacking his trademark quickness while admittedly limited to “picking his spots.” His scoring has dipped to 7.2 points per game, and Conroy’s offense has evolved into one predicated on speed and 3-pointers, often leaving Timmons out of the mix.

Rather than pout, the senior dedicated himself to defense. He also utilized his driving skills to distribute to perimeter shooters and helped the Green Wave earn its most wins since 2000.

“We knew from Day One that he is a guy who wants others around him to be successful,” Yemini said. “He wants to win. He’s never been a ‘me’ kind of guy, and I wouldn’t expect anything different from him than to say, ‘It’s my last year. I’ll do anything I can to make a run at the postseason.’ ”

With the end of his college career near, Timmons has taken time to reflect on how far the program has come. Not only is a new coach on the sideline, but Tulane practices in the new Hertz Center and plays in the renamed and renovated Devlin Fieldhouse.

But the change he wants to be remembered for is exiting the program as it removed itself from mediocrity.

“I think this program is completely on its way up, and I did everything I could to help get it there,” he said. “I’m excited to see what they can do going forward. I just want this last one, though.”