LAS VEGAS — After going undrafted out of college, former All-American Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor has been playing professional basketball with the Italian team Virtus Roma since 2012, but a hip impingement led to season-ending surgery in February, and he’s been looking for a way back on the court ever since.
As luck would have it, the Milwaukee Bucks offered him a chance to compete with them in this year’s NBA Summer League, and one of the best guards in Wisconsin Badger history couldn’t say no to the chance to play for the state’s professional team as he worked his way back from the injury.
"It’s fun," the upbeat Taylor said after Monday’s loss to the Utah Jazz. "Obviously we’re not where we want to be at 0-3, but it’s been fun, especially with the guys actually on the team — Jabari (Parker), Giannis (Antetokounmpo), Chris (Wright) and Nate (Wolters) — they’re all great guys and it’s been a lot of fun trying to learn and eventually get to that level."
The whole experience of playing, learning about and improving at basketball is a fun one for the hard-working point guard. He recognizes his strengths and weaknesses and looks for ways to beat elite competition no matter what league he’s playing, and he’s learning a lot from the Bucks’ coaching staff.
"I know that I’m not going to be the leading scorer on an NBA team or anything like that, so just trying to get in passing lanes, pressure the ball, make it hard on the other team’s point guard, wear him down and make open shots," he said of his role. "I just try to stay ready, and when my number’s called, try to make an impact defensively and offensively. All I can do is stay with it."
Knowing that to he is going to have to earn his way to his ultimate goal of an NBA roster spot, he’s happy to get another chance after an unsuccessful attempt with the Toronto Raptors last year.
"I started the first game, and then they signed Dwight Buycks from Marquette, so I didn’t play much in the next three games. But it was good," Taylor said. "Anytime you get a chance to play, to get better and learn, it’s a lot of fun."
But it’s more than just another chance and learning experience for Taylor, who admitted that the opportunity to compete for a roster spot with the Bucks was special.
"Just being back in Wisconsin is always fun. I had a great four years there with the fans in Madison, the student body, and my mom is from Racine, so it’s like a home away from home," the former Badger said. "It’s fun being here. It would be great to hopefully get a shot to make the roster, but we’ll see."
Taylor only received seven minutes of playing time in Monday’s game, which was a steep drop-off from his previous two games (15, 14), but whether that was due to the coaching staff trying to protect his health in the second consecutive day of games, or to further examine Antetokounmpo as the primary ball handler — as he was often Monday — made little difference to Taylor. He knew he would have his hands full with Utah’s talented guards, but his experience allowed him to defend well without being intimidated.
"I guarded Trey Burke in college. The style of play is a little different (from college and European basketball), but there’s really good players in Europe too," Taylor said. "Guys like Bobby Brown who was playing in Portland and was in the (NBA) for a while. He had like 75 (points) in the Chinese League this year, so the talent level is almost interchangeable. It’s fun to play against those guys."
Playing with a fellow Badger alumnus adds to the fun for Taylor. Ben Brust, who holds the record for most career 3-pointers made at Wisconsin, got his first opportunity to play Monday, and the pair found themselves on the court together toward the end of the game. Naturally, as he did so often at Wisconsin, Taylor set Brust up for a wide-open 3-point attempt with a long pass across the perimeter. The shot didn’t fall, but Taylor was happy that he and Brust still had a connection on the court.
"Yeah, of course. We got out there at the same time and of course I’m a little biased," Taylor said. "I try to make the right play all the time, but I’m definitely going to have an extra eye out for Ben. It was only two minutes, but I’ve been watching him the last two years, and we were so close when we were at school that it’s just one of those things where you feel like you can slide back into it."
Taylor is hoping his hard work gets him into the NBA this year, but having shown the ability to play well in Europe affords him a patient and positive outlook on the process.
"We’ll see what happens here in the next couple of weeks, but I love playing and obviously Summer League’s not the only route to the NBA, so I wouldn’t give up," he said. "But Europe is a good way to play and make good money and still try to chase that dream."
GAME NOTES: Parker rebounded from a poor shooting day Sunday with 14 points, making 6 of 15 field-goal attempts Monday. . . . Ben Brust was 0-for-3 in 3-point attempts, but he beat out Utah’s 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert for a defensive rebound. . . . Kenny Frease played his first minutes of the summer and made a layup on his first field-goal attempt. . . . Parker and Antetokounmpo combined for seven steals.