Tyshawn Taylor leads Kansas into Final Four
March 31, 2012
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Bob Hurley remembers the moment Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor first walked into his gym.
Taylor was visiting family in New Jersey and had tagged along with a cousin to St. Anthony's, the high school program that Hurley has built into a powerhouse. Taylor showed up the next day, too, and the day after that, until he finally told Hurley that he wanted to play for him.
"At the time we had a very good sophomore class, and he was like a diamond in the rough," Hurley recalled. "He loved the sport. He would spend countless time in the gym. We found out about who he was, his home situation, how difficult it was growing up, and he became like a favorite.
"He's had his ups and downs, as happens," Hurley said, "but the ups and downs at Kansas are nothing compared to the ups and downs he had growing up."
As Taylor prepares to lead Kansas against Ohio State in the Final Four on Saturday night, under the bright lights of the Superdome in New Orleans, those who have played the biggest roles in his life - Hurley and Taylor's mother, Jeanell - are nearly overcome with joy.
They see a more mature Taylor, close to graduation, with a future in professional basketball. He could have been claimed by the streets of Jersey City, some of the roughest in the nation, but instead used basketball as a way to steer clear of trouble.
"It's why you stay in coaching," Hurley told The Associated Press, shortly after watching the Jayhawks go through a closed practice Friday morning. "It's why you do it."
Taylor's tale goes back to his childhood, when his mother moved her children - Taylor and his two younger sisters, Taquana and Ghariana - to be closer to her sister in Florida.
Jeanell Taylor said that "communication issues" caused her to distance them from Taylor's father, Tyrone Garner. Taylor spoke to Garner sparingly until he was 12, when he finally severed what was left of their relationship.
By that time, Taylor had already become the man of the house.
"He didn't have a father figure, and it was hard for him. So for his two sisters, he was their big brother, and he did anything they needed," Jeanell Taylor said. "As a child, he should have known, `I'm a child, I stay in a child's place, and I'll let my mother handle it.' Instead, he took care of us.
"It was his burden," she added quickly. "He wanted to take that burden. He was always a mature child. Even when he was 12, he had that mentality. He always took that responsibility."
It wasn't always easy, though.
The family spent a month in a homeless shelter during one terrible stretch, and more than once Taylor would come home to find the lights off because the electric bill went unpaid.
He was perhaps 8 years old when Stephanie Crawford saw him shooting on a playground in Florida. Crawford helped run a successful AAU program, and she saw his talent - and a kid in need of some direction - and recruited the youngster to participate on the traveling team.
He matured over the next few years, eventually landing on Hurley's doorstep.
"I never really had too many male figures in my life - positive male figures - and he became one of the first who I could talk to, who demanded a lot from me, and who I wanted to please," Taylor said. "I didn't want to get into trouble because I would think, even before, `What would my mother do?' it was `What would Coach Hurley think?' I think he had that effect on me."
Taylor blossomed into a star at the tiny parochial school.
He guided St. Anthony's to a 32-0 record as a senior, part of a team featuring six Division I prospects that many consider to be the best high school team ever assembled.
That year, a documentary was filmed called "The Street Stops Here" that chronicled Hurley's program. With his natural gift for gab, Taylor stole plenty of scenes.
He initially committed to Marquette, but wound up in Kansas when Tom Crean left for the job at Indiana. Even now, Taylor believes it was something akin to divine intervention.
"We were able to find people there, they really feel as good as I feel about his four-year development," Hurley said, "which means he went to the right place."
It hasn't been happily ever after, of course. The road remained bumpy, trouble lurking around every bend. More than once Taylor has drawn the ire of Kansas coach Bill Self.
He's made careless comments on Twitter and Facebook that has riled up fans. He was involved in a fight with members of the football program, getting singled out for throwing a punch in defense of teammates.
More than once his name has been atop a press release for a "violation of team rules."
"He had a rough time," Jeanell Taylor said, "but that was then. This is now. Back then he'd do silly things you don't think about, and now he thinks about it. It's a big change."
Taylor's senior season has been about professional growth as much as personal.
He's averaged nearly 17 points and five assists while earning third-team All-American honors, raising his draft stock considerably. And he's been at his best in the biggest moments, including a 22-point performance against North Carolina that allowed Kansas to reach the Final Four.
"Tyshawn has wanted so bad all the responsibility," Self said. "He's one of those guys, `The more you give me, the more I'll focus and the more I'll do."'
Responsibility, after all, is something he's been taking on for years.
"I have never seen him not happy," Hurley said. "Things would go wrong in his life, and he's a survivor. He continues to battle. He's a great example of not making any excuses, don't complain, just keep working and good things can happen."