Tyshawn Taylor likes starting.
He's not shy about it. He wants to start. He likes being one of the first five players on the floor for the Kansas Jayhawks.
In recent weeks, however, the athletic junior point guard has had to adapt to life as a sixth man, with nobody to blame but himself. Suspended on Feb. 21 for violation of team rules, Taylor sat for two games, and into the void stepped sophomore Elijah Johnson.
And much to the surprise of Jayhawk Nation, Johnson didn't just play well – he excelled. He didn't turn the ball over. He hit open jumpshots. He played lockdown defense.
When Taylor returned to the lineup March 2 versus Texas A&M, Johnson remained the starter, and for the next three games leading up to Saturday's Big 12 Tournament championship game their roles remained the same.
Since his return, Taylor has shown signs of snapping off the proverbial switch in the 'on' position. Accepting of his role as the first guard off the bench, he cut down on turnovers, played solid defense and pressured opposing defenses with his quickness and speed.
Most importantly? He did it while remaining cool and under control – for the most part, anyway.
When the starting lineups were revealed approximately 30-minutes before tipoff Saturday night at the Sprint Center, however, Taylor's name was on the list.
Three hours later, after the Jayhawks had secured the Big 12 Tournament championship in impressive fashion, a reporter asked him if a desire to regain the starting spot was responsible for his renewed focus.
"Oh, for sure," Taylor said. "I've been starting for a while since I was a freshman here. And I love starting. I like starting. Who wouldn't?"
"But things happened and I had to come off the bench, and I kept a good attitude and played through it," he added. "And Coach had faith in me to start me today, and I hope I proved that I could start for the rest of the time."
Caught off guard, a smiling Self paused for a moment before leaning toward his own microphone.
"You had two turnovers," he deadpanned.
In truth, Taylor repaid Self for inserting him into the starting lineup and a way most probably wouldn't have believed possible just a couple of weeks earlier.
Faced with taking on a Texas backcourt with a reputation as one of the stingiest defensively in the entire country, led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Dogus Balby, the junior from Newark turned in the most complete performance of his career.
He was, in Self's words, "fabulous."
"I mean, he played like a point guard should play," the Kansas head honcho explained. "He initiated. he finished when he needed to."
Against that formidable Longhorns front line, Taylor tallied a team-leading 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, doled out five assists, played solid defense of his own and turned it over just twice.
His most important contribution wasn't quantifiable on the stat line, however. His aforementioned speed and quickness allowed him to get into the lane virtually at will. He made himself a legitimate threat, one to whom the Texas defense had to shift its focus. And when defenses have to focus on something other than the Morris Twins, opportunities open up all over for the Kansas offense.
It's thanks in large part to Taylor's impact on the game that six Jayhawks scored in double figures Saturday night. And with the NCAA tournament less than a week away, that type of balance makes Kansas virtually impossible to scout.
All of this isn't to say that Johnson is now going to disappear, as Self was quick to reaffirm his confidence in the sophomore. Saturday, Johnson was benched early for two quick fouls and then gave way to the hot hand in Taylor.
"But there's a place for Elijah, too," Self said. "There's a place for both of our guys."
It may have taken until the very cusp of the Big Dance to do it, but it appears the Kansas Jayhawks at last have a stable, dependable rotation in place. And if the Tyshawn Taylor who played Saturday night is the Tyshawn Taylor who takes the court the rest of the way, well...