In his first full season in the role of point guard with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team, junior Kammron Taylor continues to learn the position and evolve into a great Badger floor leader through his confidence as a player and leadership as a person.
Coming to Wisconsin in the fall of 2003, Taylor played in a reserve role behind the great Badger Devin Harris, who took the leadership role as point guard and transformed it into the likes of which Wisconsin fans had never seen before. After Harris turned pro after his junior year, Taylor began to grow into the position, splitting time with then-senior Sharif Chambliss.
This season, however, the role is Taylor's to control. According to former Badger guard Clayton Hanson, who watched both Devin Harris and Sharif Chambliss transform into the point guard position, the transition to becoming the team leader is not an easy one, especially in the swing offense.
"I think [the transition is] a constant process," Hanson said. "[Kam's] doing a lot more things. If you look at the minutes he has been playing lately combined with taking care of the ball and defending, he has had a lot thrown at him this year."
"You look at his freshman year when he had to sit and watch Devin," junior forward Alando Tucker said. "This year, all the pressure was put on him because he is the main guy to run the team. As a point guard in Wisconsin basketball, everything runs through you. He has to make the calls and he's our leader."
At the point guard position this season, Taylor has been productive. He leads the team in minutes (34.8 per game), 3-pointers (59) and assists (63) and is second in scoring (15.3 points per game).
Taylor has evolved from someone who would constantly slash to the basket and was prone to turnovers to a well-balanced ball handler and shooter. However, no matter how good or how bad he plays, Taylor will always be compared to the point guards that came before him, Devin Harris and Sharif Chambliss.
"I learned a lot from Devin, even though he was here for just one year (while I was here)," Taylor said. "Just the way he controlled the game. Whenever the game was getting out of hand, he took over the game, because the point guard has the ball in his hands most of the time.
"[Devin] was a leader out there on the floor and by his junior year, he had really settled in to running the team. This really being my first year really leading the team, I can really take that away from Devin on how he led the team, controlled the tempo and took over games."
One thing Taylor took away from Harris was his confidence in late-game situations in putting the team on his back and leading them to victory. This season, Taylor has played some of his best basketball in the final minutes of the game with the Badgers tied or behind. Taylor scored 14 points in the final five minutes against Michigan, hit back-to-back 3s to nearly upset Wake Forest, hit a 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left against Eastern Kentucky to send the game into double overtime, and hit a 3 at the buzzer to beat UNC Wilmington.
Against EKU Taylor made 5 of 9 three-pointers, but he had four turnovers in 44 minutes of play—certainly not an unmanageable tally in that amount of playing time, but one of his mishandles came with 39 seconds left in regulation and UW clinging to a 66-64 lead. EKU tied it up on the ensuing possession.
Versus UNCW, Taylor struggled with his shot all game before knocking down three field goals in the final minute.
For Taylor, those games were testament to his ability to remain confident and lead his team, whatever the circumstances.
"The Eastern Kentucky game wasn't going that well," Taylor recalls. "I had a turnover that could of cost our team the game… but I kept my composure because I knew (I am) one of the leaders on the team and I had to make a play at the end of the game. Hitting that shot shows how far I have come.
"The UNC-Wilmington game, I was ice cold but towards the end of the game, I decided to take over and hit a big shot. I am not a big talker. I would rather lead by example. Those two games really stand out because I wasn't playing well but kept the team together."
"That's one of the things that has grown from freshman year is his confidence," Tucker said.
Tucker said that Taylor learned to not get caught up in other people's obsession comparing him to Harris.
"He just put that behind him and now he is realizing that he needs to be himself, Kam Taylor, every time he steps on the court and not have to fill the shoes of Devin or Sharif," Tucker said. "He's really built his vocal skills, where he is learning to recognize situations on the court and be, overall, a better point guard."
With the exception of the Michigan game, Taylor struggled with his shot during UW's recent stretch of five losses in six games. Even as the team got back on track with a convincing win over Indiana, Taylor was 2-for-10 from the field.
Taylor, however, did not let the inconsistency bog him down. He knows that if his shots aren't falling, he'll get back in the gym the next day and get back to work. That perseverance—and his leadership—was on display when he scored 24 points in the win at Penn State, making 6 of 7 three-pointers in the process, and then added 12 points in a strong performance in Wednesday's win over Ohio State, despite shooting 3 of 10 in that contest.
"[Leadership] is something that takes place every day at practice, earning the respect of your teammates, and that's something he is working on every day, trying to be that leader out on the court," Hanson said. "There are times this year when he's done a great job of that and there are times when Coach [Bo Ryan] got on him."
"I know a lot of people who don't know basketball think the transition is easy or that the work behind the scenes it easy, but it's hard work," Taylor said. "I've had a coach who's stayed on me ever since I have got here on campus, and it has been good for me. My freshman year when I look at it, I might have thought that coach doesn't like me or he doesn't want me here. [Ryan] saw the potential that I had and he just stayed on me. I appreciate that he probably won't let up on me until I graduate."