Coming into his own: Maturing Tyshawn Taylor making most of his potential

Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor looks to pass against the Memphis defense during the second half of the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Not many college basketball players bring such speed and quickness to the court. He’s on the long side for a point guard, a nice complement to that quickness on the defensive end. He’ll draw a huge ovation from the grateful Allen Fieldhouse crowd Saturday morning against USC because he deserves one.

Before you say, “Oh no, not again,” wait.

If you think this is yet another story about Josh Selby and you don’t feel like reading yet another story about Josh Selby, don’t go anywhere. I’m talking about Tyshawn Taylor, the junior point guard who has led Kansas to a 9-0 start and a No. 3 national ranking.

In years past, many Taylor stories centered on his immaturity, inconsistency and instability. When superlatives were used in front of his name, they usually preceded the word “potential.”

Now the word “maximizing” precedes the word “potential.”

Taylor’s not a perfect basketball player, not that there is such a thing. Yet, in one season he has made the leap from a sophomore who too often played like a freshman to a junior who more often plays like a senior.

His natural basketball skills never have kept pace with his athleticism, but he has figured out how to get close to the most out of those skills. The outside shots that come off his hand don’t rotate in that pretty way those stroked by a pure shooter do, but Taylor has done a better job of refraining from letting long ones fly. He has taken just one a game and has a .444 accuracy rate on them so far. His overall shooting percentage is .574, his assists-to-turnover ratio 2.11.

Taylor’s averaging three turnovers a game, which is too many considering the level of competition in many of the games so far, but he knows it and is working at doing a better job of paying attention.

His dribbling skills can be a little on the loose side, and he’s not a naturally gifted passer, but he generally has done a nice job of making the right pass at the right time, which is to say the easy pass.

The most noticeable maturation in his game comes on drives to the hoop that used to be oh-so wild. Now, when he drives and shoots a runner, the words of Phog Allen, the father of modern basketball coaching, come to mind when he goes up for the shot: “Pause for poise.” He doesn’t look like he’s in a hurry all the time anymore.

Averaging 10.9 points and 6.3 assists per game, Taylor also has 1.8 steals per game, but the job he has done preventing dribble penetration means even more to the team.

When he plays well, he looks as if he’s doing a better job of focusing. When he doesn’t play as well, he still looks unfocused.

“A lot better,” Taylor said of his concentration defensively this season. “I’m more tuned-in, and I know what to look for. I know the scouting report.”

He even sounds different when he talks about his responsibilities to the team.

“As a defender, especially when teams are cutting and setting screens, you have to be able to be with your man but help and know what guy you can back up off, what guy you gotta close out because he’s a shooter,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s hard to be in tune, five guys to be on the same page for 35 seconds. It is hard. That’s what makes some teams good, because guys can do it. We’re still trying to get where we’re on that same page for 35 seconds and not break down.”

Taylor used the Arizona game as an example of how to play to the scouting report.

“I was digging a lot off of (Lamont) Jones because I knew (Derrick) Williams was trying to face up and drive middle,” Taylor said. “So I helped a lot off of Jones because I knew he wasn’t going to be a guy who stepped up and shot, but when No. 20 (Jordin Mayes) came in, I couldn’t help as much because he’s a shooter.”

He sounded like he’s into the attention to detail that separates great teams from good ones. He sounded proud. He should sound proud. Taylor has come a long way, and here’s the best part: He knows he still has a long way to go.