Tyshawn Taylor leading Kansas back to Final Four
The word filtered out from an email from a Kansas official that
the Jayhawks’ bus, at least according to their GPS system, would
arrive back in Lawrence at shortly after midnight.
Kansas had just beat North Carolina in the Midwest Regional
finals Sunday night, punching its ticket to the Final Four, and
Tyshawn Taylor and the rest of his teammates were tired. Exhausted.
And a five-hour ride back from St. Louis would finally give them a
chance to rest.
Good thing, too.
When they walked into Allen Fieldhouse to unload their gear,
they were greeted by thousands of students and fans eager to show
their appreciation in the most fitting way possible.
”Wow,” Taylor said while emerging from the tunnel, the same
one that he took to the court for all those home games. ”I
appreciate our fans. They’re always with us.”
No matter the highs or lows.
Taylor has put them through plenty of both.
The senior guard from Hoboken, N.J., may be the most polarizing
figure to wear the crimson and blue. Few players have played in as
many games, let alone won as many. Few have made more big shots at
key moments to send their team to conference championships and NCAA
tournament victories. Few players have had the same gift for
But few players have also given coach Bill Self so many
sleepless nights. Or all those Kansas faithful reason to question
their unwavering allegiance.
”I’ve always liked Ty. I’ve always loved him as a player. No
question,” Self said. ”I have always liked him as a guy. If I was
in college, I would want to hang with Ty. He’s a cool kid.”
To hang with, sure. To coach?
He was suspended last year for two games for violating team
rules. He was suspended again for the Jayhawks’ exhibition games
this season. There was also a much-publicized brawl between players
on the Kansas football and basketball team back in 2009, and Taylor
”Ty’s been a guy that has gotten in his own way some. He’s put
himself in a position for a large part of his career where he
probably didn’t know that I liked him as much as I do,” Self said.
”And now without question I think he knows that I really like
Perhaps part of the reason is that Self and Taylor have come to
understand each other over four rollercoaster years in Lawrence.
They’ve built the kind of relationship between elite player and
tough-love coach that has become a rarity in the era of
Self has come to appreciate everything Taylor went through as a
child, serving as the father figure to his two sisters growing up.
He never complained about picking them up from school when he was
just 10 years old, when someone else should have been taking
Taylor, likewise, has come to appreciate that Self stuck by him
through thick and thin.
It would have been easy for a coach with a national championship
on his resume – along with a record eight straight Big 12 titles –
to give up on a troublesome player. Self didn’t have the pressure
to win a title that followed Roy Williams from Kansas to North
Carolina, so no one would have begrudged him for cutting ties with
Taylor when he became too much to handle.
The thought never seemed to cross his mind.
”He’s been about as big a treat to coach as anybody I’ve ever
had,” Self said. ”And I’ve always been fond of guys that have to
go through some stuff to get where they eventually end up, and he’s
had to go through some stuff.”
The peaks and valleys of Taylor’s career mirrored those of his
There was that hot stretch where he scored at least 20 points
three consecutive games, one of them against Elite Eight
participant Baylor. There was also that miserable outing against
Davidson back in December, which left the Jayhawks at 7-3 and
wondering what had gone wrong.
It was Taylor who, like any good point guard, provided
leadership to weather the storm.
When his shot went missing in the NCAA tournament – he’s 0 for
17 from beyond the 3-point arc so far – he’s found other ways to
contribute. On a 2-for-12 shooting night against N.C. State in the
regional semifinals, he managed a career best 10 rebounds and piled
up five assists.
Against mighty North Carolina with a trip to the Final Four on
the line, Taylor scored 22 points with six rebounds, five assists
and only three turnovers.
Afterward, he raised his arms in triumph and headed over to the
most densely packed area of Kansas fans inside the Edward Jones
Dome, directly across from the Jayhawks’ bench.
He applauded them as they applauded him, and then shook his fist
in victory – for the game, for his career, for absorbing all the
bumps along the road.
”He’s been a treat to be around,” Self said, ”and he’s
emerged as one of the better leaders we have had since I’ve been
here. I really like this kid.”