No 'I' in Taylor

Losing two senior guards is never easy for any basketball team, but No.24 Wisconsin may not suffer as much as people think. With his solid vision, secure ball handling and leadership mentality, junior Jordan Taylor could be the right man to lead the Badgers to a conference title.

CHICAGO – They are just numbers to Jordan Taylor, numbers that reinforce what he's been taught all along. Rule number one: always value the basketball.

It's the main reason why Taylor, entering his junior year at the University of Wisconsin, doesn't get overly excited when he's told he led the Big Ten and ranked third in the nation with a plus-3.03 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. If he wasn't being polite, he would point out that his 39 turnovers were 39 too many.

That's just his bulldog mentality that's being masked by his sheepish smile.

"I honestly didn't know about that number until the last two games of the season," Taylor said. "I just try to make good decisions out there. That's how you play basketball well, and that's what Coach Ryan preaches a lot. I just try to do the right things."

Spending two years under Trevon Hughes would make any point guard confident, and Taylor has shown that he can do the right things on the court. His 118 assists were the most by a UW player since Devin Harris had 141 in 2004 and his scoring came along with him, as he averaged 11.6 points per game during Big Ten play and scored in double figures in 13 of the last 23 games.

The confidence started brewing the year before when Taylor appeared in all 33 games, averaging the most minutes among UW freshmen with 13.2 per game. His biggest moment was hitting his first career 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime against Iowa, but it was the moments going against Hughes and fellow senior Jason Bohannon in practice that built his repertoire.

"You always have to be confident in your game because once you lose confidence, that's when you start second guessing yourself," said Taylor, who ranked eighth in the Big Ten with 3.6 assists per game last season." At this level, you have to stay confident no matter what. I try not to have that falter or waver at all. If you miss shots, you make the next one. If you make a turnover, you have to get back on defense. You just have to keep playing and not let things get in the way."

Although his team has six seniors, including preseason All-Big Ten selection Jon Leuer, Taylor's direction of the offense during Leuer's nine-game absence last season boosted him into the leadership category. He's not brash about it either, choosing to deflect praise to the other guys rather than talk glowingly about his own numbers. You wouldn't expect anything different from a player in Bo Ryan's system.

The prime example would be his ratio. The turnovers are his responsibility, but the assists come from a player finishing at the rim. Taylor can make the world's greatest pass, but he won't get the result if his teammate can finish the shot.

"It's easy to get assists when you turn off a screen and Keaton Nankivil is waiting to knock down a shot," Taylor said. "It makes me look like a genius when Jon Leuer is hitting turn-around jump shots in the post. They've gotten a lot better and takes a lot pressure off everybody."

After earning a No. 4 seed last season, the Badgers have made 12th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, one of just six schools that have an active NCAA tournament streak of at least 12 years. Since 2001-02, Wisconsin is 12-9 in the NCAA, and only Michigan State (19) has won more NCAA tournament games than the Badgers among Big Ten teams.

"You almost take it for granted," Taylor said of the streak. "You just expect to get to the tournament. That's why you just have to get on the court and play. I think at the end of the day, we always have something to prove, especially from last year."

Even so, there is plenty of motivation. The Badgers are frustrated that they fell one game short of a share of a Big Ten title, were eliminated in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament and being eliminated before the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in the last five years

"I think every year, no matter if you win a national championship or a Big Ten title, you have motivation to get better," Taylor said. "We are all students of the game and trying to improve. That's what the coaching staff is here for, to push us and for us to get in the gym and get better. There's always some kind of motivation on this team and that's the kind of personality this team has."

There are plenty of personalities lined up to compete for time at the guard position. Junior Rob Wilson, one of Taylor's best friends, has spent the summer growing his game and finding consistency on the court; senior Wquinton Smith has been called by Ryan as one of hardest workers on the squad and freshman Josh Gasser could be one of the best perimeter defenders on the team.

That's the main reason Taylor refused to take anything for granted. When asked about being the starting point guard – he says he hasn't earned that right yet. When asked about his expanded role he'll have with two senior guards graduated – he says that the roles on the team are still to be seen.

It's only fitting that a bulldog like Taylor is planning to earn his reward instead of having it given to him.

"We're all competing for everything we get," Taylor said. "Whatever role I end up working, I am ready to take on the challenge and fill those shoes."

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