N-G All-Area boys' basketball player of the year | Tim Finke is simply grand

N-G All-Area boys' basketball player of the year | Tim Finke is simply grand

CHAMPAIGN — Grand Canyon University is not situated inside, alongside or even within brief driving distance of Grand Canyon National Park.

A little more than three hours separates this for-profit institution and one of the United States' great geological marvels.

There's more than a reasonable chance, however, that Champaign Central senior Tim Finke visits both locations before 2018 is out.

Well, there's a guarantee with his college of choice. Taking a trip north of Phoenix to the Grand Canyon would just be icing on the cake for The News-Gazette's All-Area boys' basketball Player of the Year.

Finke loves him some basketball.

No doubt about it. This was known well before he tallied 2,015 career points to become Champaign-Urbana's all-time leading scorer. Well before he averaged 21.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists for the Maroons this past season, helping Central win a Class 3A regional title for the third consecutive season.

By his own admission, Finke even carried around either a basketball or a small baseball bat through some of his childhood years.

But go past the court, and one can better understand why the 6-foot-7, four-star guard is excited not only about the prospect of suiting up with former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle's Antelopes, but also about the idea of exploring such sights as the Grand Canyon.

'What else do I do?'

Ask Finke what he likes to do when he isn't putting in time on the hardwood, and ... well, it takes him a little while to formulate a response.

"It's kind of crazy when I think about that," he said. "How much basketball is a part of my life, because what else do I do?"

But the youngster, who has older brothers Michael and Nick playing college hoops at Illinois and Army, respectively, eventually is able to come up with some activities.

Nearly all of them center around one concept: spending time outdoors.

"(Parents Jeff and Laura) have always liked that I sometimes like to be on my own, be outdoors," Tim said. "It's been a part of me since I can remember."

Among Tim's favorite pastimes is fishing, and one of his ideal locations is a large pond at Savoy's Dana Colbert Park.

Tim said his late grandfather, David, was the one who got him into the idea of casting a line at the end of a pier and seeing what might bite.

During one particular fishing session, that turned out to be a surprising catch.

"I caught a really big striped bass one time," Tim said. "It was at night, and I saw the bait going. Then, all of the sudden, I pulled it and it was literally huge. It caught me off guard."

Jeff Finke, also Tim's coach at Central, admits he isn't much of an outdoorsman himself. But that's totally fine by the third-year Maroons leader. His son needs space beyond basketball.

"That's really his thing to do on his own," Jeff said. "We've taken bike rides and gone on hiking trips, but those are his escape away from Dad and away from Coach."

Tracing back to Colbert Park, there's a sizable hill opposite the fishing dock. Tim finds use out of that, too; although, not so much for relaxation.

It's prime real estate for some leg exercises.

"There's all different types of things I'll do to get a workout in," Tim said. "When it gets to the summer, it gets really, really hot out here. So that alone, that can get you."

'We became really close friends'

It certainly wasn't warm when Tim and longtime pal Myles Spence geared up for a bike ride last week.

Tim and Spence, a Centennial senior, ventured out on pedaling excursions plenty in their younger years. They decided to revive the practice shortly after Central fell to Springfield Lanphier in a sectional semifinal earlier this month.

"He said the weather was going to be nice, and I'm like, 'Oh, OK,'" Myles said. "We haven't rode bikes in a while. We were excited. And it was so windy. It was really tiring."

Tim, Spence and Centennial senior Jaden Roberts-Thomas previously traveled to Franklin Middle School in this way. It wasn't exactly a short trip, either, by Tim's admission.

This is just another staple of Tim's outdoor lifestyle. His father recalled it taking Tim eight to 10 months just to get his driver's license because Tim was always riding his bike and found himself too busy to consistently attend drivers' education.

"It's been neat to see him getting back to who he was a few years ago," Jeff said, referencing Tim's life prior to the whirlwind of basketball games, practices, camps and recruitment. "It's been fun to hear him say, 'I'm going to go on a bike ride with Myles.'"

Both Spence and Roberts-Thomas know Tim in a basketball sense, of course. Roberts-Thomas recently finished his last season with the Chargers, while Spence previously was part of the program.

"We knew he was the kid who would be the best out of us," Roberts-Thomas said. "He could do stuff at a young age that we didn't even know — just shooting deep threes and being able to drive and dribble."

Spence actually took a while to warm up to Tim after meeting him in seventh grade. All Spence heard about shortly after moving from Decatur to Champaign was how amazing Tim was on the court.

"I was like, 'This guy thinks he's all better than me and stuff,'" Myles said. "I remember the first open gym, I was so mad and thinking, 'I'm better than this guy.' But ... we became really, really close friends."

'It's a mental way to unwind'

Of course, this means Roberts-Thomas and Spence have some quality stories to share about their bond with Tim. And they go beyond outdoor adventures and basketball.

Roberts-Thomas can talk about the time Tim went on a cookie-baking binge in middle school. "He was like, 'My cookies are so good. You need to try them,'" Roberts-Thomas said.

Spence can think back to he and Tim filming themselves belting out various tunes. "I'm not the best singer. He can probably sing a little better than me," Myles said.

That's the gist of Tim's attitude away from the hardwood, according to family and friends. He's a fun-loving kid with a bit of a goofy side.

But he has more serious passions as well. More recently, Tim's faith has become a major factor in his life. He described his "walk with Jesus in this past year" playing "the most important part" in his development.

There's also the guitar, which Tim picked up on as a freshman. He said the most challenging song for him to learn has been John Mayer's "Edge of Desire."

These outlets, combined with Tim's outdoor interests, have allowed him to completely detach from basketball ahead of joining the Grand Canyon roster.

"The last two weeks, I don't know that he's picked up a basketball," Jeff said. "It's a mental way to unwind."

'They hike a lot'

Tim's decision to sign with the Antelopes last November was always about more than hoops.

There was, of course, the draw of being part of an up-and-coming program that has competed in postseason play during four of its last five seasons at the NCAA Division I level.

But there's also the chance to continue living a lifestyle he's comfortable with outside basketball.

With Arizona's year-round weather conducive to outdoor events, Tim already had a good setup. Add to that Tim having two cousins in the Phoenix area, and he has family close by with an idea for how Tim can best spend his free time.

"They hike a lot. They say the fishing can be good in some areas depending on how hot it is," Tim said. "They were telling me about how you can ski up (at the top of a mountain) and go in the sand dunes (at the bottom). I'm looking forward to it."

Tim doesn't want to be that "all basketball, all the time" type of collegian, just as he never was in middle or high school. Even as he's looking to make a major impact with a promising team, Tim is keenly aware how far a little personal balance can go.

"Whenever I can get the chance to just do something else, I have to take advantage of it," he said. "It's just a whole new place to live and experience all new things. That's what I'm looking forward to a lot, just a whole new life out there."