To say Tyshawn Taylor's career has been "up-and-down" is somehow both an understatement and a misunderstanding.
It's the former for off-court reasons, for Taylor's more-than-occasional ability to land himself in coach Bill Self's doghouse. He's been suspended for fighting with football players, for being less than discreet on Facebook, for violating team rules, which he did most recently this offseason. (Taylor was suspended for Kansas's first two exhibition games.) It's the latter because, despite all those concerns, Taylor's career has been relatively steady -- at least statistically.
Basketball Prospectus's Corey Schmidt actually quantified this dynamic in a nifty little post today. In an attempt to gauge the public sentiment surrounding Taylor since his freshman season, Schmidt went to the archives and pulled every mention of the guard from the Daily Kansan, Topeka Capital Journal, and the blog Rock Chalk Talk, and he also grabbed a sample of national pieces from places like this site you're reading right now. The research confirmed the hypothesis: As a freshman, Taylor's mistakes were written off as part of his learning curve, and the words spent describing him were almost overwhelming positive. The most frequently used adjective, Schmidt notes, was "impressive." As a sophomore and junior, though, the proportions reversed; Schmidt's designated "negative words" -- the most frequent adjective was "frustrating" -- dominated the day.
The question, of course, is how Taylor will play -- and how he will be received -- as a senior in 2011-12. In many ways, it's his moment in the spotlight. For the first time in his career, Kansas's backcourt will be dominated by Taylor. There is no Sherron Collins or Xavier Henry or Tyrel Reed or Brady Morningstar to crowd out touches and shots and assists. More than anything, Kansas needs Taylor to be a leader -- a senior on a young team, a rock in a remade, uncertain rotation.
The Kansas City Star's J. Brady McCullough discussed this and more with Taylor in a feature this weekend. Taylor, eager to remove his family from a difficult upbringing, brought them to Lawrence to live with him. Taylor also insists he doesn't care what people think of him, even if his coach Bill Self disagrees. (This is a great quote: “Usually,” Self says, “the guys who say, ‘People can think what they want to’ are the ones that care the most about what people think.”)
But Self also thinks Taylor has turned something of a corner, team-wise:
Self has told Taylor that one of his favorite things about him is his stubbornness. Self wants Taylor to be himself this season, but not at the expense of the team.
“Sometimes, he lets personal things take precedent over team things,” Self says. “He’s matured so much. He’s very competitive, and I think he’s learned that he doesn’t have to get the last word in."
Taylor's preseason suspension undermined that hope; Kansas fans were left to believe Tyshawn was once again being Tyshawn (word to Manny Ramirez), that he simply couldn't reign himself in enough to be the leader his team needs. But as Schmidt showed in his post, the narrative has a way of shifting even when on-court production doesn't. Taylor could be merely good this year, but if he is mature, if he leads Kansas capably -- and most importantly, if the Jayhawks win their eight-straight Big 12 regular season conference title -- he'll be as lauded now as he was maligned earlier.
"Impressive" or "frustrating." Kansas fans are hoping for much more of the former, much less of the latter.