Kansas guard Taylor overcomes critics
LAWRENCE, Kan. – He had matched a career-high total with 28 points, but like other nights before it, attention on Tyshawn Taylor's play turned to an unpleasant topic. Seventh-ranked Kansas was less than an hour removed from an 18-point rout of No. 3 Baylor on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, and the maligned Jayhawks senior guard looked into a crowded room from behind a table as a questioner began to speak.
The subject was turnovers – Taylor had a game-high five to raise his season total to a team-high 73 – and the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Hoboken, N.J., native addressed the inquiry before it could be completed. Turnovers are not a problem when his team is winning, he said after interrupting. One day soon, he assured the audience, Kansas' victories over Big 12 Conference competition will replace his loose ball control as popular postgame discussion.
"If we keep winning, I don't think too many people are going to be talking about my turnovers," Taylor said. "They're going to be talking about us winning. So, I definitely feel like I've got to be less careless with the ball. I think it comes later in the game when I'm trying not to mess up when I'm messing up the most out there. So I've just got to take care of the ball a little bit better."
If he does, more attention will be paid to his offensive output. A recipient of wild swings of praise and blame as the Jayhawks' primary ball-handler, Taylor combined for 56 points in consecutive victories over Iowa State and Baylor in the past week. Among those around the program, he remains a divisive presence – labels of "Bad Tyshawn" and "Good Tyshawn" follow him two months before the end of his college career – and his success or struggle late in the season will help dictate the Jayhawks' own as they try to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
"Bad Tyshawn" looks like this: Taylor pulling his white jersey over his face as the buzzer sounds following Duke's 68-61 victory in the Maui Invitational championship Nov. 23 in Lahaina, Hawaii. He scored a game-high 17 points at the Lahaina Civic Center, but his failure to protect the ball was the lasting memory: He had a season-high 11 turnovers, and afterward, Coach Bill Self admitted that he should have pulled the struggling guard.
Meanwhile, "Good Tyshawn" looks like this: Taylor lifting his right hand to trade high-fives with junior guard Travis Releford near mid-court in the closing seconds of a 78-67 victory over Ohio State on Dec. 10 at Allen Fieldhouse. He had a career-high 13 assists despite playing through pain caused by a torn meniscus and sprained MCL in his right knee.
Afterward, Self said, "I can get on Tyshawn for turning it over. I can get onto him for not
making some plays … but I can't get on him for toughness."
Over the past three years, Self and others within Kansas' program have learned to tolerate the frustration that comes with Taylor's game. They know the Jayhawks' 110-17 record since the start of the 2008-09 season would not be possible without the erratic guard.
The turnovers are a paradox of Taylor's talent. He has led Kansas in assists in each of the past two seasons, totaling 121 as a sophomore and 164 as a junior. This season, he is averaging a career-high 16.2 points per game to go along with his team-high 94 assists. However, his 73 turnovers are 12 more than he had his entire sophomore campaign, and he could surpass his career-high 97 set last year.
"I definitely want to go out there and be a threat, because I don't want to feel like I am just another player on the court," Taylor said. "I want the defender that is guarding me to feel like when I have the ball that I can make something happen."
But sometimes bad things happen when Taylor has the ball, and he has used his Twitter account (@_tee_y) to snap at critics throughout his career. In the days following the victory over Baylor – one that made Bears coach Scott Drew say Taylor "has gotten better each and every year" – Taylor logged into the social-networking website to vent.
"I'm good at knowing when people genuinely happy for me and when they jus act like it," he wrote in one tweet.
"and everybody sleeping on me ..gunna be taking long naps," he wrote in another.
"and now it's gunna be at an all time high cus I did pretty good ..now they wanna see me fail even more."
"You kind of get ... in somewhat of a bubble where, yes, you want to make the fans happy," said former Kansas guard Ryan Robertson, who played for the Jayhawks from 1995 to 1999. "But to be perfectly honest – and with all due respect to them – they're kind of the low man on the totem pole, because you're really more focused on yourself. You're more focused on your team. You're more focused on your coach. And then fans come in after that. The fact that there's a microscope on you, because you're the point guard at Kansas, I think he would tell you – because I would tell you – that that comes with the territory.
"We knew what we were signing up for when we went to Kansas. We knew that having the ball in your hand 80 percent of the time at a school like Kansas or Kentucky or North Carolina is going to draw the magnifying glass out. But you get that and understand that."
Still, the attention on Taylor has made his dueling personas obvious. He is known as a light presence around teammates, and his ability to connect with them on the court has contributed to the chemistry that has allowed the Jayhawks to continue a streak of seven years with at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title. But the voice that comes through on his Twitter account and in postgame news conferences when asked about turnovers is a sign that he feels pressure to meet lofty expectations.
How Taylor settles the conflict between his role's public and personal demands will influence how far Kansas goes in its ninth season under Self. Will he become someone who uses sharp words from "haters" to elevate his skill? Or will he become distracted and channel his emotions in a negative way?
"I just want to keep being aggressive and being in attack mode, so that is what I am going to continue to do," Taylor said.
No matter the outcome, the struggle between "Bad Tyshawn" and "Good Tyshawn" will help determine the legacy of this Kansas team like it has the past three seasons. The Jayhawks can only hope victories continue throughout the rest of their Big 12 schedule and beyond, leaving Taylor's turnovers to become little more than an inconvenience.