Taylor no longer hidden

Sophomore point guard is set to make the first of what he hopes will be many starts in a UW uniform

Early last year, Kammron Taylor felt like the invisible man on the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team. Day after day the then-true freshman point guard showed up for practice with little to no chance of receiving significant playing time.

"I would come to practice like, ‘Oh man, another day of practice and I'm not going to play,'" Taylor said.

"I didn't know how to handle it," he said.

One year later Taylor will be the Badgers' starting point guard when they host Pennsylvania in their season opener at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at the Kohl Center.

"This year I think I came in more mature and ready to lead if the coach needs me," Taylor said.

"He's figured out what it takes to play at this level," assistant coach Greg Gard said. "He is no where near where he needs to be yet, but he's taken steps in the right direction."

Taylor had been a star at Minneapolis' North High School when he arrived in Madison in the summer of 2003. A prolific scorer throughout the various stages of youth basketball, Taylor averaged 18 points and eight assists per game in leading North to a state title his senior year. He scored 59 points in three state tournament games that year.

His first year at Wisconsin was an entirely different experience.

"I think it was a shock for him to figure out how good guys were at that level, how strong they are, how quick they are," Gard said. "Instead of being the best player on the floor all the time, now he's on the floor with 10 other guys that are just as good. Everybody's at your level, if not beyond."

Taylor played just 41 minutes all of last year, scoring 21 points. His season highs were a mere five points and seven minutes.

"Sitting on the bench it was hard for me because I had been the star on my team ever since I was in the second grade," Taylor said. "I think I needed that and it was a wake-up call that I have to work hard for everything that I want."

Taylor had a pretty decent tutor last season in Big Ten Player of the Year Devin Harris, who was the primary reason Taylor was grabbing pine all year.

"It didn't take me by surprise because I knew Devin had the talent but he just had a bust out year and I was just like, ‘Whoa,'" Taylor said. "I had to realize that I was playing behind probably the best point guard in the country.

"I couldn't get down on myself that I wasn't playing that much. I just took it as a learning experience."

As the realization sank in that this was not his year for floor time, Taylor no longer felt like a forgotten player.

"As the season went on, the coaches kept telling me, Devin kept telling me, just keep my head up," Taylor said. "Because the coaches know I can play. It is just the little things that I wasn't doing that I wasn't on the floor."

Of the myriad building blocks Taylor took away from last season, the need to be consistent stood out.

"One week I'd have a good practice and then the next week a couple days I'd have a bad practice and the coaches kept telling me I have to be consistent if I want to play," he said. "I think this year I've been more consistent and I just plan on being consistent throughout the year."

Harris is now the starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks while Taylor is the leader of a point guard trio that has taken over Wisconsin's reigns. Whereas Harris commanded the position last season, playing 36 minutes per contest, Taylor will share the duty with senior Sharif Chambliss and freshman Michael Flowers. Chambliss and Flowers will also play shooting guard.

The triumvirate held up well in Wisconsin's two exhibitions games and showed marked improvement in the preseason finale Tuesday night against UW-Platteville, combining for 20 points, seven assists, seven steals and only two turnovers. Taylor chipped in five points and five assists, one game after scoring 11 points with one assist.

"He took control of things," Gard said of the Platteville game. "That's the stuff we like to see. He doesn't have to score 20 points for us. He just has to be under control, be our voice out on the floor, develop his leadership abilities. When it's time to take his shots and time to make his plays, go ahead and make them."

Taylor continues to seek and need improvement in all areas of his game, but he has developed sufficiently so that UW's players and coaches have confidence in him.

"He's pointing in the right direction," Gard said. "There's going to be days where things are going to be a struggle for him, it's going to be a grind. He's just got to fight through those things."

Come Saturday, rather than pining away at the end of the bench like last year, Taylor will be among the first five on the floor.

"I have to make sure I still go out every day and work hard but just thinking about the stuff I went through last year, that makes me really excited," Taylor said.

"I just stuck to it. I just kept working hard," he said. "I was just waiting for the opportunity to present itself. It's here and I'm going to take advantage of it."

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