UW senior evolves into perhaps nation’s best point guard
He has watched Taylor first earn the trust of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and then gradually expand his game and his influence on the floor as more freedom was given to him.
“You know, it’s a funny thing,” said Harris, who played for Ryan from 2001-’04 and returned to UW last week to work out with the team. “He is harder on his point guards, but those are the guys that get the most freedom.
“You build from scratch, but once you get to that point where he trusts you, there’s nothing he won’t allow you to do.”
Taylor was UW’s bell cow as a junior last season, when he helped the Badgers reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008. With three senior starters gone from that team, Taylor’s leadership will be even more vital in 2011-’12. That journey begins at noon Saturday at the Kohl Center when UW opens the season against Kennesaw State.
“I just hope he doesn’t think he has to score 40 a game this year,” Ryan said of Taylor. “I think we’re going to be in trouble if he does. He doesn’t. He wants to be even more consistent, to be more inclusive with his teammates. …
“He has a role, but the role, it isn’t in a box. His role can expand. But his leadership won’t change. He’ll be an even better leader this year.”
As a junior, Taylor led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.83 (161 assists, 42 turnovers). He was UW’s No. 2 scorer at 18.1 points per game. His shooting averages, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 43.3 percent overall, were his best marks at UW.
Remember that as a freshman Taylor shot 19.2 percent from three-point range and 26.0 percent overall. Those numbers rose to 32.7 percent from three-point range and 39.5 percent overall in Taylor’s sophomore season and again last season because of long hours in the gym.
UW associate head coach Greg Gard, who has been with Ryan since the 1993-’94 season at UW-Platteville, has found both Harris and Taylor alone in the gym at off-hours during the summer.
“Late at night you’re getting ready for camp the next day and you hear the ball bouncing,” said Gard, who runs UW’s summer camps. “You wonder: ‘Did a camper sneak back in?’?”
No camper, just Harris during his time at UW and Taylor over the last few summers shooting alone.
“They’re putting in time on their own,” Gard said. “They both understood they had to get a lot better.
“They both grew by leaps and bounds.”
Taylor is dynamic on the court and self-deprecating off. He can score a combined 57 points in victories over Michigan State and Ohio State and spend more time giving credit to his teammates and coaches than talking about how he took over both games.
“Coach Ryan does a really good job simplifying the game,” he said. “He is good at teaching you the game. All the film sessions we have you try and pay attention and learn a lot from what he is telling you.”
Sharif Chambliss ran UW’s offense for one season, 2004-’05, after transferring from Penn State. He helped UW reach the Elite Eight.
“The way (Taylor) interacts with the freshmen, I’ve watched that a lot this year,” said Chambliss, who is entering his second season as UW’s video coordinator. “He has kind of taken George Marshall under his wing. He did that with Josh Gasser last year but he has taken a more active role this year.
“This is why he came back, to be a leader, to be that guy.”
Taylor’s toughest challenge this season, particularly early, could be dealing with increased defensive pressure. With Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil gone, Taylor is UW’s lone proven scorer.
“He is going to have a target on his back and maybe defenses are going to be geared more toward him,” Gard said. “He has to learn how to adjust to that and still do what he needs to do.”
What Taylor wants is clear.
“I wanted to go to a Final Four since I was a kid, and win a Big Ten championship,” he said. “That is my main focus. That is our team’s main focus. …
“I’d go out and average six points a game if we’d go 30-something and 0. That would be the best season you could have.”