Jayhawks turn pursuit toward No. 1 seed in NCAAs
AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Tyshawn Taylor has already helped No. 3 Kansas wrap up its eighth straight Big 12 title.
The senior guard has been a part of 120 victories during his time in Lawrence, moving up the school record lists in a number of statistical categories. He’s experienced the highest of highs and some faith-rattling lows, all the while becoming one of the Jayhawks’ favorite sons.
When he steps onto the court for senior night at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, he understands there will be a flood of emotions. But he also knows his focus will be squarely on Texas.
That’s because the Jayhawks are still chasing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks (25-5, 15-2) assured themselves a share of the league title with a dramatic overtime win over Missouri last weekend. They earned it outright with a victory Monday night at Oklahoma State, taking some drama out of their regular-season finale against the Longhorns.
“It’s a dream come true to be in this situation,” Taylor said, summarizing both the Jayhawks’ current situation as Big 12 champs and his entire rollercoaster career.
The polarizing point guard from Hoboken, N.J., has emerged as one of the premier players in college basketball with a Big 12 season that will long be remembered.
He’s averaged 18.4 points during conference games, nearly eight over his career average, and is dishing out assists at nearly five per game. He’s been at his best when it’s counted most, too, scoring 24 against the Tigers and 27 earlier this week against the Cowboys.
“He can frustrate you,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, who has more than once shoved Taylor into the dog house, “but I’m sure I frustrated my father, and my kids frustrate me.”
Yes, Self likened Taylor to one of his own kids.
That alone may be enough to demonstrate the legacy he’s left in Lawrence.
“He’s meant a lot to me personally,” Self said Thursday. “I thought about that this morning, to be honest with you. I don’t get emotional about certain things, but I see myself getting emotional about him, with some of the obstacles he’s overcome.”
The full extent of those obstacles may never be known. Taylor has rarely addressed them in any detail, and Self guards the personal lives of his players like Fort Knox.
“He’s got a side a lot of people don’t know about,” Self said. “He hasn’t had it easy by any stretch. He’s overcome a lot … (and) he’s been a part of something bigger than himself.”
Taylor arrived on the heels of the Jayhawks’ 2008 national championship, and started 33 of 35 games as a freshman. He averaged 9.7 points and logged more than 100 assists, and more than once heard whispers that he had what it takes to jump to the NBA early.
Things the past two years haven’t been nearly as smooth.
Despite starting 56 games over the course of two seasons, he never pushed his average into double figures. He was always the fourth or fifth scoring option on teams stacked with talent, trying to find a way to contribute wherever possible.
“The four years, the system, the way it’s set up, has benefited Ty the way it was intended to benefit him,” Self said. “You get better every year, your stock has elevated every year, you have a bigger role every year, and when you leave here you’re prepared.”
Taylor is among three seniors who will be honored.
Connor Teahan is the lone player who also was part of the 2008 title team – he made the rare decision to redshirt after his junior season, when it became clear minutes would be at a premium.
It wound up being a sound decision, too.
After scoring 71 points his first three years at Kansas, the former walk-on has been first off the bench this season. He’s averaging 6.4 points – still modest numbers – but also gives the Jayhawks a lift with precision 3-point shooting.
Jordan Juenemann will also be honored after a four-year career in which he went from walk-on to fan favorite. He’s only scored 41 points in his entire career, and has played in just 12 games this season, but the student section routinely chants his name late in games.
They understand how much it takes to play basketball at Kansas.
After all, expectations are high for everyone who steps on the hallowed court inside Allen Fieldhouse. And unless the season ends with a national championship, there’s always a feeling that the Jayhawks have come up just a little bit short.
Landing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament would be a good place to start.