Tyshawn Taylor, who has been a part of Kansas University’s tradition-rich college basketball program the past three years, acknowledges another school with vast hoops history — UCLA.
“It’s a storied program,” Taylor, KU’s junior guard from Hoboken, N.J., said in advance of Thursday’s 8 p.m., home game against the Bruins, who have won a record 11 NCAA Div. I championships entering the 2010-11 season. KU has won three NCAA Div. I titles to go with a pair of Helms Foundation national crowns for five overall.
“It’s a great history. They’ve got a great coach. They’ve got good talent,” added Taylor, whose Jayhawks rank second in history with 2,009 victories, while UCLA is eighth at 1,689.
Bruins’ coach Ben Howland has led UCLA to three Final Fours (2006, ’07, ’08) in his first seven seasons in Westwood, Calif. That run included a spot in the ’06 NCAA title game.
UCLA followed the Final Four run with a 26-9 record and spot in the NCAA Round of 32 in 2008-09, then an un-Bruin-like 14-18 mark last season.
“They’ve probably been struggling for the past couple years. Some schools go through that,” Taylor said. “It’s schools like that where you know they’ve got good players, they’ve got big-name guys, they’ve got a real good coach and they come from a program that you know they’re going to work hard, the coach is going to demand the best out of them.
“Those are schools you kind of sleep on just because they haven’t been the UCLA that we know, and then they come in here and they can beat us because they’re still UCLA. We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to be prepared, play them like they’re the best team.”
The unranked (3-2) Bruins opened the 2010-11 campaign with home wins over Cal State Northridge (83-50), Pepperdine (79-69) and Pacific (57-44) before dropping Preseason NIT games to Villanova (82-70) and Virginia Commonwealth (89-85) at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“I’m excited and our guys will be excited about playing arguably as storied of a program as there is in the country. I think our fans will be excited about that, too. The building should be jumping, without question,” KU coach Bill Self said.
The Bruins — who have reached 17 Final Fours to KU’s 13 — have been in a rebuilding mode of sorts since the falling apart of Rivals.com’s top-rated recruiting Class of 2008. That class consisted of No. 2-rated Jrue Holiday (left for NBA after one season), No. 25 J’Mison Morgan (dismissed from team, now at Baylor), No. 46 Drew Gordon (transferred to New Mexico seven games into last season) as well as No. 48 Malcolm Lee (current starter) and No. 37 Jerime Anderson (reserve).
KU’s recruiting Class of 2008 was ranked No. 2, right behind the Bruins. That class, which has helped the Jayhawks to a 66-11 record, consisted of the No. 77-rated Taylor, plus No. 29 Marcus Morris, No. 50 Markieff Morris, No. 70 Travis Releford and No. 150 Quintrell Thomas (transfer to UNLV). The large class also includes juco transfers Mario Little and Tyrone Appleton (left team after one year and never played again).
“Look at the players they’ve had,” Self gushed of UCLA under Howland. “Start with the (Aaron) Afflalos, the (Darren) Collisons, the (Russell) Westbrooks, the Kevin Loves. Now they’ve got Joshua Smith, a McDonald’s All-American, highly recruited, (Tyler) Honeycutt, another McDonald’s All-American playing the three. They’re good.”
Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson averages a team-leading 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Honeycutt averages 14.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg. Junior guard Lazeric Jones averages 12.6 ppg and junior guard Lee 11.5 ppg.
Self by the way, like combo guard Taylor, is well-versed in UCLA history. KU’s coach was a long-time admirer of the late John Wooden.
“Nobody in the 1960s, in the ’70s beat them. Very rarely did they ever lose, certainly not in the NCAA Tournament,” Self said, referring to a stretch from 1963-64 to 1974-75, in which Wooden’s Bruins won 10 national titles.