Dec. 3, 2010
MADISON, Wis. --You won’t find Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor reading books on leadership.
“I read the Harry Potter books,’’ he said. “That’s about as extensive as my literature goes.’’
But you will find Taylor leading by example as the UW’s starting point guard.
“No matter how much you’re up by,’’ he said, “you have to be playing hard.’’
You won’t find Taylor taking life too seriously.
“I’m kind of a silly kid,’’ he said.
But you will find Taylor taking winning real seriously.
“Opponents can respect me, or better respect me,’’ he said, “for wanting to come out there and kick their butts around the court.”
There are different sides to Jordan Taylor, who’s trying to find a happy medium by straddling the line between “focus and fun” as a team leader this season for the Badgers.
You might find Taylor showing off his singing voice by serenading teammate Tim Jarmusz during stretching exercises.
“I’m Luther Vandross in the shower,’’ he said.
Or, you might find Taylor diving head-first after a loose ball even though there were only 40 seconds left in a 15-point win over Manhattan. “You have to play hard until the final buzzer,’’ he said.
What you won’t find is Taylor being intimidated by an opponent. Or a slump.
“No, never been intimidated,’’ he said. “If you’re shot is not falling, you have to shoot until you get hot, and when you get hot, you have to keep shooting. You have to keep that confidence level up.’’
During the recent Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., Taylor struggled with his shot in two of the three games. He was 1-of-7 against Manhattan and 6-of-19 in Sunday’s loss to Notre Dame.
Has he ever lost his confidence?
“It has happened before,’’ said Taylor, a sturdy 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior from Bloomington, Minn. “But it happens to everybody. That’s part of the mental part of the game. When you do lose your confidence, you have to find a way to get it back.
“You have to think, ‘The next shot is going down, the next shot is going down’ and if they don’t go down, you have to realize they’re going to go down eventually.’’
Taylor got a silly grin on his face. “You’re not going to miss every shot you take for the rest of your life,’’ he said. “That’s the mental part. You have to drive through the rough patches.’’
As if prophetic, Taylor responded in his next game against NC State with 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting (2-of-3 from 3-point range).
His parents, Lezlie and Louis, have led by example, too.
“My dad has always talked to me about staying mentally tough. It’s 60 percent mental and 40 percent physical. Everybody is going to have bad shooting games and bad games in general. But you have to fight through it when stuff isn’t going your way, and you have to always stay positive.’’
There were never any questions about Taylor’s leadership skills during his senior year at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, Minn.
But there were some questions about his jersey number (23) and his middle name, Michael. What a coincidence, huh? Or was it?
You had Jordan Michael Taylor wearing the No. 23 made famous by Michael Jordan. But it’s not what you think. The name came from an uncle on his dad’s side of the family.
As far as the No. 23, Taylor wore No. 11 up until his senior year.
But he earned the right to switch to No. 23, which belonged to Jim Flick, a point guard who was a member of two state championship teams at Benilde-St. Margaret’s in 1963 and 1964.
Only six players have worn No. 23 since Flick left school. And it’s handed out only when someone is deserving of living up to Flick’s character, leadership, attitude, determination and teamwork.
That exemplifies Taylor, who’s back wearing No. 11 with the Badgers.
There’s another number that Taylor wears with pride.
The No. 1 – signifying that he’s a point guard.
“You have to be smart and have leadership skills,’’ he said of the job description. “At the same time, you have to be fierce and a competitor. You have to drive to be the best player on the court.’’
You also need that drive to play the guard for UW coach Bo Ryan, a former point guard.
“How important is the pitcher in baseball?’’ Ryan posed rhetorically. “How important is the quarterback or middle linebacker in football? That’s how important the point guard is.’’
He went on to add that all successful point guards have their own personality off the court. But there is a common denominator. “They don’t want to lose,’’ Ryan stressed.
The point guard is also the key decision-maker.
“If you’ve got a good one,’’ Ryan said, “there are so many things that he can add. He’s the leader, the spokesperson, the energizer and the creator.
“You can get some things from the post and wing. But when it comes to communicating, leading and directing everybody on the floor, you need to get that out of your point guard. And if you have a good one, who scores, plays defense and handles the ball, it makes him that much more valuable.’’
Ryan has had some good ones at Platteville and Wisconsin. And Taylor seems ideally suited to add his name to that list with the Badgers by being an extension of Ryan on the court.
In fact, it has been suggested that this season’s team is Jordan Taylor’s team.
You can tell that Taylor is a little uncomfortable with that suggestion.
“As a point guard, you’re looked to be the leader, the floor general,’’ Taylor said. “But we have six great seniors and they’re all leaders, too, and Jon Leuer is one of the best players in the country.
“So I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘It’s my team.’ A team is a collective unit and we’re all working together to try and reach the same goals and win.’’
Last season, the Badgers were led by senior guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon. In this context, Taylor was asked if he “deferred’’ to the upperclassmen – out of respect for Hughes and Bohannon – even though he worked his way into the starting lineup for the final 17 games.
“I wouldn’t say deferred is the word,’’ Taylor said. “Our program is all about taking advantage of opportunities and when they were there, I tried to take them.
“Trevon and Jason were the leaders and I knew that. And I knew when we needed something done that we looked to them. But I don’t know that I deferred. “I know this much: Trevon was one of the more mentally tough kids I’ve ever met. He found a way to get things done no matter what was going on with him, and I admired him for it.’’
Taylor acknowledged that he has been cast in a different role this season, especially with Josh Gasser taking over as a starter in the backcourt. Gasser is a true freshman.
“I’m more of a big brother to Josh,’’ Taylor said. “Or you could say Josh is in the position that I was in last year with Trevon and Jason. And you won’t see Josh deferring at any time.
“He’s a tough kid, mentally and physically. I never expected a freshman to come in and play the way he has played and to have that from him is big for our team. He’s only going to get better, too.’’
Gasser’s presence has allowed Taylor to play without the ball at times. “Josh makes a lot of different things possible for me individually and our team as a whole,’’ Taylor said.
Right now, the Badgers are still developing their personality as a team while working through the different combinations and pieces to the puzzle. The players are still finding themselves.
Jordan Taylor? You will find him mixing fun and focus.
“I remind myself and the guys what we’re supposed to be doing,’’ Taylor said on a weekend where he was seen walking the team’s Walt Disney World hotel with a Donald Duck-billed cap on his head. “But I’m also reminding them that it’s still just a game and I try to keep them loose that way.
“It’s a fine line – staying focused and staying loose. We play because we have fun. But we also play because we want to win. You have to find that even balance.’’