Onward to 2015–16: In Tim Derksen, USF has one of college basketball’s most consistent performers
After USF had dispatched Pacific with a 62–58 win in the West Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals this past March, Dons junior guard Tim Derksen was asked at the press conference about a key defensive possession, late in the game, that helped seal the victory.
In typical fashion, Derksen answered succinctly. “Get a stop, or go home — it’s that point in the season,” he said. It was a great line, but what made it unforgettable was the little chuckle that came from Derksen’s head coach, Rex Walters, who was seated next to him on the podium.
After falling to Gonzaga in the next round, the Dons would finish with a 14–18 record, a season that certainly didn’t go according to plan, given the thrilling close to ‘13–14, in which USF had won nine of 11 heading into the conference tournament and finished with 21 wins and an NIT bid.
I spoke to Walters numerous times this past season, and though the losses mounted, he was never disappointed with the effort put forth from his team. That reliability stemmed from a strong core of experience within the team, and Derksen was one a key practitioner. In the first practice I attended last season, in late October, I had barely settled down in War Memorial Gym before Derksen had drawn a charge during a scrimmage. The energy and intensity he showed during that practice were sensational, but should not have come as any suprise.
It’s one reason why Walters could take a number of positive from the way the Dons closed out this past season. They finished with a surge in conference, winning four of their last five, and gave a gut punch to Gonzaga, an eventual Elite Eight NCAA tournament team, before falling 81–72 in the WCC semis.
Derksen finished with 21 points in that game, but as I sift through my notes of that game, I am most struck by a couple of plays that had none to do with scoring. With just over four minutes left in the first half, Derksen crashed the offensive glass hard and got a tip-in to give the Dons their first lead of the game, at 22–20. With 41 seconds left until the break, Derksen stepped up to draw a charge on Gonzaga senior Gary Bell, Jr., who was steaming ahead in transition. That stopped a five-point Zags surge, and helped the Dons enter the half with a 29–27 lead.
At the final whistle, Derksen had 10 boards — including five on the offensive end. He’d nabbed two steals. It is little wonder that, when his teammates are asked to describe him, they inevitably begin with Derksen’s near-infinite reserve of willpower and grind. His will to win.
“We got kicked, but we kept fighting,” Walters said of the season. “This team kept working. We were really close this year. I just think of how lucky I am. Now, we get better.”
Of Derksen, Walters said this before the WCC tournament. It seemed kinda prescient.
“Tim is definitely one of our most consistent workers. He’ll come early, and he’ll stay late. He gives great effort on the court. He’s very much a self-made player. He spends the time. There’s a reason he’s our third-leading scorer. There’s a reason why there’ll be a big-time argument that he’s our most valuable player — because of his work ethic, because of how hard he goes at it every day. His mindset. He’s had a heckuva year for us.”
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