Although he was getting vigorously recruited already as a high school freshman, Finke’s star dimmed when he suffered a back injury and then struggled physically and mentally leading to a “terrible summer” (his words) after his junior season. As a result, several of his biggest suitors backed away and signed other top players.
Finally, he took several weeks off to heal and in that time Grand Canyon University in Arizona – coached by former NBA standout Dan Majerle – put on the full-court press and ended up signing him.
Initially, Finke thought he had landed at the perfect place. He’d be coached by a 14-year NBA veteran, who had been a three-time All Star and a first round draft pick out of Central Michigan.
He would be going to a school known for its rabid, adoring fan base. He was coming in as the highest-rated recruit ever signed by the Antelopes and, to top it off, his brother Michael was joining him as a grad transfer after playing three seasons at Illinois.
Wright State's Tim Finke before a game last season. WSU Athletics photo
But he said he struggled with GCU’s style of play which relied more on isolations plays than motion offense, which he was used to. Although that first season he played in 34 games and had three starts, he was mostly a reserve guard who averaged 15.8 minutes and 3.5 points a game.
Soon after he announced he was transferring, Wright State head coach Scott Nagy and associate head coach Brian Cooley visited him in Phoenix.
Although he also checked out Morehead State, Finke said he was sold when he visited WSU.
The Raiders run a motion offense. He liked the players he met – including fellow Illinois products Loudon Love and Cole Gentry – and he was impressed by the facilities.
“For a mid-major, their facilities are incredible,” Jeff agreed. “Their practice facility is better than Illinois has and it’s as good as many of the high major programs that Michael and Tim visited in their recruitments.”
And then there were the connections between the Finkes and the Nagys.
“It goes back quite a ways,” Jeff said.
“My dad recruited Jeff to play basketball at Illinois,” said Scott Nagy, whose father Dick spent 17 years on Lou Henson’s Illini staff. “He played one season, but then switched to football.”
Jeff, a 6-foot-5 tight end, played in 35 games and had 70 catches for 803 yards and four touchdowns.
His first score came against Arizona State and is remembered because it was the first TD pass thrown by Illinois great Jeff George, who ended up the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft.
But an even prouder line in Jeff’s resume is that his Illini teams beat Ohio State three straight times.
Jeff and is wife Laura now have four children, the three basketball playing boys and daughter Ashley, now a sophomore at Grand Canyon, but for many years growing up she was “a ballerina,” Jeff said:
“She’s the best conditioned of the four of them. In terms of her attention to health and fitness and all that, she’s a fanatic.”
The Finke Family: (left to right) Nick (6-foot-7 Army senior), Lexi (Michael’s wife), Michael (6 foot-10 pro in Amsterdam), Laura (mom), Jeff (dad), Ashley (sister/Grand Canyon student).,Tim (Wright State 6-foot-6 red-shirt sophomore). CONTRIBUTED
To date, Michael is the most celebrated of the four. He finished his college career with 1,116 points (741 at Illinois, 375 at Grand Canyon) and then began played professionally, first in Estonia and now with ZZ Leiden in the Dutch Basketball League.
Nick, an engineering management major at West Point, has come off the bench for Army the past three seasons and may be a starter this season.
He and Tim first were teammates at Centennial High in Champaign, which is Scott Nagy’s alma mater.
Before Tim’s sophomore year, his dad took the job at Champaign Central and he and Nick transferred there. Soon Tim was being wooed by the likes of DePaul, Marquette, Northwestern, Boston College and many more schools.
“But to be completely honest, going into my last AAU season I had that terrible summer,” he said. “It got in my head and I pressed and it became a mental thing. I could give excuses and say it was this or that, but honestly it was myself.” Once he got back on track, schools like Loyola and Wisconsin again showed interest, but Jeff said they first wanted to see how he was going to do his senior season. Grand Canyon had no reservations and signed him.
Tim had a stellar senior season, but by then he was committed.
When it didn’t work out at GCU and he was considering Wright State, he first consulted another family connection to the Raiders.
Mike LaTulip had played at Illinois and then at WSU as a grad transfer.
“He had played at Illinois with my brother,” Finke said. “He was in my ear talking about a lot of the things here and I trusted him.”
After sitting out last season to meet NCAA transfer rules, Finke said he’s “super ready” to finally start playing again.
He noted his last game was in March of 2019, when GCU lost to West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.
“But I’ll admit, coming back in COVID times is a little weird,” he said. “But it’s an improvement from sitting all last season.”
Still there’s some real uncertainty because of the pandemic.
Jeff said Michael’s pro team played just two games earlier this month and then an outbreak of COVID cases got the entire Dutch Basketball League shut down for 30 days. And when Michael first tried to bring in his new wife Lexi from the States, he could not because of COVID restrictions.
As for Jeff’s basketball, he said Illinois high school teams still haven’t been given the final OK to play games this season.
At Wright State, Nagy also has concerns:
“If somebody does test positive, the entire team is out 14 days. If that happens in season, it could destroy your team. And the thing is, it’s not just your team. Your opponent could end up cancelling out, too.”
But Nagy has given them good advice, Finke said: “He preaches all the time that the teams that handle the situation the best and roll with the punches will be the ones who succeed when the time comes.”
Finke’s especially looking forward to the start of the season because he said the Raiders are scheduled to open in a four-team, round robin classic in Champaign.
According to a report by CBS Sports, Wright State will meet Ohio University on Nov. 25 and over the next two days will play both host Illinois and North Carolina A&T.
Tim Finke during a recent Wright State practice. WSU Athletics photo
Nagy said Finke, a redshirt sophomore, will be a great addition to an already deep team:
"People will try to compare him to Bill (Wampler, last season’s WSU standout now playing pro in Germany), but Tim is bigger and probably more physical and he can score in different ways. He can play a bunch of different positions, but will mostly be a 3 or 4 for us.
“With him and Loudon and Grant (Basile) and Tanner (Holden), we’ll look a little different. We probably won’t play as fast as last year, but we’ll be bigger and more physical.” As different looks go, Jeff Finke seems to wrestle with the bearded look:
"When the virus hit, all three boys came home and none of them shaved. They all grew beards and long hair. But now that he’s playing again, Michael’s beard is well manicured and Nick, being a cadet, can’t have facial hair.
“But Tim’s still got that COVID beard. I think it makes him look like a mountain man.”
Nagy laughed when asked about it: “I used to worry about that stuff, but I don’t anymore.” And no wonder.
If you look at Tim Finke now out there on the Raiders' court, right in the middle of those dark whiskers you often find a big, bright smile.
He’s looking like his old self again.