June 22, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- After working out for the New York Knicks at their Westchester training facility, Jordan Taylor returned to his hotel room late Tuesday night and relaxed by watching the Thunder and Heat in Game 4 of the NBA finals.
The Knicks were the 10th team on his audition tour. San Antonio is next.
"Anything could happen on draft night,'' said Taylor, the former UW point guard, of June 28. "I'm hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. I feel like I'm going to get a shot; I'll be in the Summer League regardless (if he's drafted or not). It's just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunity.''
The individual team workouts can be emotionally draining; especially when there's still so much uncertainty regarding Taylor's status for next Thursday's two-round draft. While he has drawn some favorable reviews, he might have a better chance of making a roster by signing as a free agent.
What do the NBA scouts and general managers and coaches want to see?
"I have no idea,'' Taylor admitted. "I wish I could get inside their heads ... most of the scouts, from what I understand, have watched you for the past two or three years, so I don't think there's too much you can do in an hour workout that is going to change their mind about you -- good or bad.''
It can all be very taxing, he conceded. That's why Taylor felt so much better about his situation after exchanging text messages Tuesday with former UW quarterback Russell Wilson, a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League draft.
"He talked about having faith in God and expecting that He is going to put you in the right place -- where you're supposed to be -- at the right time,'' Taylor said. "I was feeling a little anxious but after talking to him, I took that to heart. What happens ... happens.''
Taylor and Wilson haven't exactly been textmates over the past year. But this communication was timely. "We offered each other support,'' Taylor said. "He's reached some of his goals to this point and I'm sure he has many more goals that he's going to reach throughout his career.
"He was in my position just a couple of months ago -- trying to figure out where he was going to be living and playing next year. It's definitely a little stressful. But to hear from him was very cool. I heard he was doing good things (in Seattle) and I wished him well.''
Taylor, like Wilson, has experience dealing with expectations; none higher than following his junior season at Wisconsin when he was recognized as an All-American after leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. In addition to his playmaking ability, he ranked fourth in the Big Ten in scoring.
Taylor couldn't match those numbers as a senior. But, then, he had a much different supporting cast due in part to the graduation losses of Jon Leuer (a second-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks), Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz. Initially, the Badgers had trouble replacing their scoring.
There was also an issue of intangibles with Jarmusz.
"A lot of people probably didn't realize how much Tim meant to our team,'' Taylor said. "He wasn't a huge numbers guy or a stat stuffer. But he was good defensively and he was going to do all the dirty stuff. He was a perfect teammate.''
While Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren were adjusting to expanded roles as first-time starters, Taylor was adjusting to different combinations on the floor. "We were trying to get on the same page with each other,'' he said. "Some of the guys had been around, but they really hadn't played a ton.''
After winning their Big Ten opener at Nebraska, the Badgers lost three straight, including back-to-back games against Iowa and Michigan State at the Kohl Center. That low was soon followed by a high: a rare victory at Purdue, which triggered a six-game winning streak.
"It's tough when you go through a three-game patch like we did,'' Taylor said. "All you can do is try to bounce back after every game, and we did a good job of digging ourselves out of that hole.''
Despite that 1-3 start, the Badgers finished with a 12-6 record in the Big Ten, which left them just one game out of first place. "I think we hit our stride at the right time of the year,'' Taylor said. "It was just a matter of coming up a little short, which was frustrating, considering some of the games we lost.''
One of the better storylines in the conference over the final month of the season was Rob Wilson, who came out of the shadows to score 30 points against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament.
"I wish it would have come sooner for Rob,'' Taylor said. "But he was a guy who came to practice every day and worked his butt off. I'm sure he was frustrated at times having to watch from the bench. But he's a tough kid and when he got his chance at the end of the year, he did his thing.
"Sometimes when I would struggle -- when I felt like nothing was going my way -- I'd look at Rob and see how hard he worked every day and how he never gave up and I used him as inspiration.''
The steady development of Evans and Berggren also factored into the team's revival. Do they both have to take another step next season to ensure that the Badgers are again title contenders?
"Everybody does,'' Taylor said. "That's part of growing up. Everybody has to take that next step. That's how we continue to have the success we've had at Wisconsin; guys getting better every year.''
That goes for the returning guards: Josh Gasser, Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and George Marshall -- especially Marshall, who will be asked to pick up some of Taylor's minutes at the point.
"I expect George to have a really good year,'' Taylor said of the redshirt freshman. "He just needs to be aggressive and play his game. He will bring a lot to the team if he does that.''
Taylor knows the Badgers will be counting on Mike Bruesewitz for senior leadership. "He might not be putting up the biggest numbers,'' he said, "but he's always making an impact in the game.''
He also knows that the competition should be intense for minutes off the bench, particularly with transfer Zach Bohannon and freshman Sam Dekker in the mix with sophomore Frank Kaminsky.
"What we did this year as a team,'' he said, "should be a building block for them next year.''
What the Badgers almost did was knock off No. 1 seed Syracuse in the NCAA's Sweet 16.
Does Taylor ever wish that he could redo that final offensive possession?
"Oh, yeah, I probably will wish for that for the rest of my life,'' he said with a sigh. "But there's nothing you can do about it now, except move on.''
The NBA is now on his wish list.
Is he good enough to play at that level?
"No question, no question,'' he said with conviction. "When people think about the NBA, they think about LeBron James or Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose. The reality is that's about 20 to 25 guys. About 90 to 95 percent of the players in the league are role players.''
Taylor just wants a chance to prove himself -- in whatever role.
"A lot of it is about the situation you get into,'' he said, harkening back to the Wilson text about being in the right place at the right time. "If I get my opportunity, I will try to take advantage of it.''