Tyshawn Taylor let the red and blue practice jersey dangle from his fingers as he sat on top of a vacant concession stand inside Allen Fieldhouse and reflected on the year that had just passed. He wasn’t supposed to be here, inside the home of one of the most storied programs in college basketball. He was supposed to be 600 miles northeast.
Similarly, his teammates on the Kansas men’s basketball team, the ones passing by Taylor on their way to practice, weren’t supposed to be in their current position, either. The Jayhawks claimed the fifth national championship in program history in 2008 and then lost all five starters from that squad.
Not even the team’s coach imagined in the fall that last year’s remnants combined with several new pieces could manage to still be playing this late into March. And yet Friday, Taylor and the third-seeded Jayhawks will play in the Midwest Region semifinals against second-seeded Michigan State in Indianapolis.
“A lot of people probably didn’t think we would be in this situation,” said Taylor, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard out of Hoboken, N.J.
After leading St. Anthony High through an undefeated state championship season as a senior, Taylor was prepared to attend Marquette. But following a workout on April 1, 2008, a friend told Taylor that coach Tom Crean had left Marquette to take the coaching job at Indiana.
“It was like a disaster,” said Jeanell Taylor, Tyshawn’s mother. “It was just a deep hurting feeling of, ‘OK, now what am I going to do?’”
Two days passed before anyone on the remaining staff at Marquette contacted Taylor, and by then, Taylor’s coach at St. Anthony, Bob Hurley, had requested Taylor be released immediately from his commitment to the university. Two weeks passed before Marquette granted Taylor’s release.
On April 7, the paths of Taylor and Kansas began to converge. The Jayhawks, behind a lineup stocked with future NBA draft picks, defeated Memphis in overtime to claim the national title. Later that night, Marquette named former assistant Buzz Williams its next head coach.
Williams flew to New Jersey four days later to meet with Taylor, but his efforts to ease the recruit’s apprehensions were futile.
“The kid is recruited by a slick, suave guy that he sees on television all the time,” Hurley said. “He wins him over, over other slick guys and then he leaves and the kid is left with the uncertainty of what’s the next thing that’s going to happen.”
While Taylor waited for Marquette to grant his release, Hurley and Kansas assistant Joe Dooley kept in regular contact. Dooley is “a friend of mine, a Jersey kid,” Hurley said, and the two spoke about the suddenly gaping holes in the Jayhawks’ roster. Guards Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush had declared for the NBA draft.
The team needed someone who could handle the responsibility of immediately contributing in a program fresh off a national championship. Fortunately for Kansas, Taylor knew all about responsibility.
As he hopped off the concession stand Tuesday afternoon, Taylor said he was content to be one of Self’s guys.
“I’m happy things went the way they did,” Taylor said. “It was a tough time going through it, but at the end of the day, I’m happy and I wouldn’t trade being here for the world.”