Tyshawn Taylor's will take the court in Phog Allen Fieldhouse for the last time today.
Kansas fans will stand and cheer. Loudly. Like they always do.
No one deserves a day full of appreciation and love from the nation's best fans more than Taylor because he is what college athletics should be about and he epitomizes this program.
"It came fast, so I'm a little bit anxious about it," said the senior guard. "I'm nervous but excited at the same time."
The Jersey City native came to KU when Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean left Marquette to take over a struggling Hoosier program. The Golden Eagles loss was KU's gain. Taylor succeeded under Bob Hurley at St. Anthony High School winning a national title and he immediately wowed Kansas fans with his long arms and his speed. The result was a Big 12 Freshman of the Year award.
Over the course of his career Taylor has butted heads with Head Coach Bill Self, endured suspensions, been criticized in the press, and has taken his share of punches even from fans on twitter. Some of that was justified, a lot of it wasn't, but Taylor knows he brought a fair amount of it on himself.
"My relationship with Ty has been good," said Self. "He can frustrate you, but I'm sure I frustrated my mother and my father, and my kids frustrate me. That goes with the territory at times."
But Taylor has spent a good portion of his career and his life proving people wrong. There's been this myth that he doesn't care enough when quite the opposite is true. His coaches and teammates will tell you at times he probably cares too much. He has persevered and stayed the course and is now on track to graduate in May and further his basketball career in the NBA. Tyshawn has come a long way as man and as a basketball player.
"For him to improve as much as he has is pretty good," said Self reflecting on Taylor's maturation. "It hasn't always been easy for him because he felt the weight of all the Kansas fans on his back, and maybe rightfully so, but I think he's turned everybody with his play and his actions this year."
This year its unquestionably been his team to run and Taylor has produced as a leader and a scorer. His teammates will tell you that Tyshawn did not want this amazing title streak to end on his watch. Thanks to Taylor, he will leave Kansas with his 4th Big 12 title and hopefully even more hardware in March.
"Tyshawn has always been the type of kid that always wanted it to be his team," explained Self. "He always wanted to have more of a role in people's minds but that's not easy to dowhen you have the twins (Markieff and Marcus Morris), you've got Cole (Aldrich), and you've got Sherron (Collins) running around here. It wasn't going to be that way."
"This year, with those guys gone, he's embraced that and I think he's really liked it a lot. It seems to me the more he's been given freedom and the more he's been given a role, the more he's embraced it and the more unselfish he's become. It's been fun to watch."
"Once we got comfortable as a team and with Coach Self, I think we were a pretty good team and we started palying well," Taylor assessed. "I think I was a big part of that because I'm a senior and I've been starting for four years so I have the most experience on the team. It's only right that I do my part."
Like his predecessor Collins, Tyshawn's impressed in games where the stakes are highest. Against 8 ranked opponents this season the confident Taylor has averaged 19.1 points and nearly 5 assists (4.9 apg). He's shooting 48 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three and has produced four 20-point games. They are numbers to marvel at and KU wouldn't be one of the country's best teams without him.
It's no secret what Self's offensive theory has been all season, "Thomas touches it or Tyshawn drives it" and it's worked. Despite Ty's numbers and his team's success Taylor was inexplicably the Bob Cousy finalist list - an 11-player list that singles out the nation's best point guard at season's end. In another baffling award snafu this week he was left off the Naismith watch list which features the country's top 30 players.
"Oh yeah, that's a snub," Self told reporters. "No question. If Tyshawn Taylor is not one of the best 15 players in the country that's unbelievable to me. He is without question one of the premiere players in America and one of the best guards in the country. He deserves All-American consideration."
"It's kind of whack, but it is what it is," said Taylor. "My numbers don't lie, so I guess they could look at that. It's cool though. Thomas is about to get Player of the Year and Coach Self will get Coach of the Year, so we're good over here. We're winning."
A comment from Taylor that shows as terrific as his point production has been his unselfishness and his leadership qualities have been even better. Taylor has never been afraid to speak and is the reason a lot of reporters have made sure to have the record button pressed over the course of his career. But this year he's used his communication abilities in a positive way. His teammates and coaches will tell you he's taken over huddles and shared his thoughts in the locker room. He's been unafraid to push his teammates and get in their faces if they needed it - just ask Jeff Withey. Taylor was on the big fella after his point production in the first game at Missouri and Withey went on a tear after Taylor told him the team needed him to score.
It was the combo of Taylor and Robinson who preached to this team that they had to stay together no matter what and that included being down 19 against Mizzou. They stayed together and fought off adversity and the rest is history. Tyshawn's overtime performance last weekend carved out its own place in KU history yet when Taylor reached the podium the first thing he talked about was how proud he was of his teammates.
After a monster game at Oklahoma State in a post game interview Taylor paid homage to Keiton Page's performance. Taylor has become selfless with a full understanding of how to succeed at Kansas.
"Since he's been here, he's done what you hope every kid would do," said Self with pride. "He's going to graduate, he's been a part of something bigger than himself, he's given himself to this place and he's going to leave out of here beloved. He's had a great career, it just hasn't always been smooth getting to the end result. It's been pretty amazing to me."
Thinking of the emotion involved and all that Taylor has overcome could equal a very emotional night for everyone in Phog Allen. One of the best parts of KU's senior night tradition is the players getting to take the mic and have their chance to say thank you, Taylor will have that opportunity Saturday.
"When I look back it's like, 'whoa, that went fast' but it was a long process," said Taylor reflecting. "It's bittersweet. I'm definitely sad to be playing my last game and to be leaving. This is all I've known for four years, so it's going to be a little bit different and bittersweet."
"He's meant a lot to me, personally," said Self. "I thought about that this morning. I usually don't get emotional about certain things, but I could see myself getting emotional about him because of how far he's come and some obstacles he's had to deal with."