Homeward bound

Kammron Taylor returns to his old stomping grounds

Kammron Taylor grew up 15 minutes from Williams Arena, but he was not a fan of University of Minnesota hoops, or any college team for that matter.

"I really followed my high school team when I was younger because my brother played on that team and Khalid El-Amin played on that team," Taylor said.

Taylor, a sophomore point guard who has come of age with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team this season, was preceded at Minneapolis North by his older brother, Kerek Taylor, and El-Amin, who later starred at UConn.

Kammron Taylor was no slouch at North, averaging 18 points and eight assists per game in helping the Polars to a state championship his senior year. He played at Williams a couple times in high school, but did not attend a Gophers' game there until Minnesota began recruiting him. The Gophers pushed hard for Taylor's services, but he chose to attend neighboring Wisconsin.

"I would probably say they were in my top five but they weren't in my top three or anything," Taylor said of Minnesota.

Taylor's decision has paid off for No. 19 Wisconsin (15-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten), which faces a challenge at Williams Saturday morning in host Minnesota (15-6, 5-3). The Gophers are the Big Ten's most improved team from a year ago, while Taylor is one of the league's most improved players.

Not that anyone noticed Taylor last season. Not when he played all of 41 minutes in 18 games as Devin Harris' understudy. But while Harris is learning the ropes in the NBA, Taylor's development at Wisconsin has shifted into overdrive.

That was perhaps most clear Thursday, when Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan chose to use a sparkling play Taylor made in Wednesday's win over Northwestern for the Badgers' "teaching clips." In the play, Taylor drove past his defender, drew another Wildcat away from the block and left a picturesque bounce pass for a cutting Zach Morley, who finished with a dunk.

"Kam is a quick athlete with the ball," Ryan said. "There aren't a whole lot that have his court awareness with that quickness. But he's just scratching the surface. He can get better."

Taylor was proud the play made the video session.

"I think that I'm maturing and I think it's starting to show," Taylor said. "I was really proud that he picked that out in the clips."

It sure beats the alternative.

"Usually it's like, ‘You see this dumb pass Kammron made,'" Taylor said with a laugh.

More than anything, Ryan, who was a point guard in his playing days, has admonished Taylor to take care of the ball. The lectures have been fewer and farther between as of late. After suffering three turnovers in the first half of a home loss to Illinois last week, Taylor has nine assists and just three turnovers in the past two-and-a-half games.

He learned a few lessons against Illinois.

The Badgers' quickest player, the 6-foot-2 Taylor has had to learn to control his speed. He did not do that in the first half versus the Illini, allowing the frenetic feel of the Kohl Center environment that night to affect his play.

"I think everything really started clicking the second half of that Illinois game," Taylor said. "I realized I had to slow myself down."

That outing will help Taylor temper the emotions of returning home Saturday, the excitement of which pales in comparison to the Illinois game, Taylor said.

"Whenever you are playing the No. 1 team in the country, you can't get more excited than that," he said. "Going into Williams Arena I know I'm definitely not going to be as excited as I was during the Illinois game."

That will be helpful for Wisconsin, which will need its floor leader at his best against a Minnesota team that leads the Big Ten in steals (9.9 per game).

Taylor is very familiar with the Gophers. Last summer he played pickup games with a number of Minnesota players, during open gym sessions at Williams. He played against forward Dan Coleman in high school and met guards Aaron Robinson, Vincent Grier and Rico Tucker, among others, through the open gym sessions.

"I became cool with those guys," Taylor said. "I don't have anything against anybody on their team."

Saturday will be more than a pickup game, however.

"I'm not excited about going back to ‘The Barn,'" Taylor said. "I'm just excited to see my family, my friends. My whole family is going to get a chance to watch me play. That's the thing I'm most excited about."

Taylor's family should see a good show. He has been a star on the road this season, averaging 12.7 points per game, compared to 6.0 at home.

Since the Illinois game, however, Taylor has been on a roll both home and away, leading the Badgers in scoring in two consecutive wins. He tallied 20 points in 35 minutes at Penn State then put up 18 in a career-high 39 minutes Wednesday versus Northwestern.

In conference games, Taylor is second on the Badgers' squad with 12.3 points per game.

Said Ryan: "He always was quick. He could always shoot. He could always penetrate."

What Taylor needed is the consistency that he is now beginning to show.

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