New Orleans — When Kansas University senior Conner Teahan reflects on the season that led the Jayhawks to the Final Four, he finds himself in the Kansas locker room in the Lahaina Civic Center, site of the Maui Invitational. KU had just lost to Duke, 68-61, to drop its record to 3-2.
Teahan’s memory sees Tyshawn Taylor, who had just totaled 17 points and four assists, in tears, blaming himself for the loss because of his 11 turnovers.
That passion meant a lot to Teahan and made last Sunday’s Final Four celebration in the locker room of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis even more meaningful.
“I don’t know if I could be more proud of a player, ever,” Teahan said of Taylor. “He’s done so well for us. And regardless of him making bad plays, he makes so many great plays for us. It’s really ridiculous how important he is to our team. We wouldn’t be anywhere without him.”
That’s true. Even with Taylor shooting 0-for-17 from three-point range so far in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas couldn’t have reached the Final Four without the extroverted native of Hoboken, N.J., forcing turnovers at one end, breaking down defenses at the other.
Teammates seemed every bit as elated that Taylor reached the Final Four as they were for themselves.
“It definitely makes it sweeter,” reserve guard Niko Roberts said. “I’ve really never seen him so happy.”
Added freshman Naadir Tharpe, who has taken notes on everything, good and bad, that Taylor has done: “He just had a huge smile, and he came in and told everybody that he loves us, and he wouldn’t rather do this with any other team. To hear that is just exciting, and it shows how much love he has for this team and how much love he has for Kansas.”
There’s a reason Taylor’s teammates love him, and it’s not the same one that inspired the initially reluctant fans finally to stand in his corner. Winning means a lot, but these guys respect Taylor’s struggle. Good games and bad. Suspensions and senior nights. Off-the-court trouble and on-the-court greatness. Taylor has experienced it all.
KU junior Kevin Young, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, is one of the few players on the roster who knew Taylor before teaming with him. Young, who played for Puerto Rico in the FIBA U19 World Championships in 2009 in New Zealand, said he remembered facing Taylor and Team USA in the championships and remembered thinking he was amazing. He also knew about Taylor’s troubles.
“Before I got here, I heard about all this stuff going on with him and his suspensions and all that,” Young recalled. “He’s been through so much. I’m just so happy he made it this far. He’s our leader. And he’s an extension of coach (Bill Self), and that’s what makes him such a good player.”
Roberts said he always sensed Taylor used all the negativity as motivation.
“And he had a lot of motivation,” Roberts said. “The way he’s played, he’s just been carrying us and leading us. I can’t say enough about him. And I can’t say how happy I am for him because he really deserves this. A lot of people would’ve buckled. But that’s not the type of person he is. This type of success just shows his true character.”
Added reserve freshman, Merv Lindsay: “Seeing Tyshawn get this means everything because everybody was saying he couldn’t lead the team and all that. But he proved it. What he’s doing now is showing everybody that you can’t compound mistakes with other mistakes. You gotta move on. That’s what he did, and he led us on the road to the Final Four.”