In that picture, Alando Tucker is hunched over in a somber, defeated slouch. He looked as if the weight of the world is on his shoulders. And in many ways it was. Eighth-seeded Arizona had just proceeded to tear Wisconsin apart from the opening tip, and a defensive strategy which focused primarily on sagging off everyone on the floor not named Alando Tucker ultimately led to a long, physical day for the Badgers' star.
To his right, however, sat the motor of a point guard that at the top of his game not only provided Tucker with a wingman, but a legitimate co-leader on the court. Kammron Taylor had jumped out to a head-turning pace in his first year starting for Wisconsin. The quick-footed scoring threat had buried key shots late in big games and was beginning to grow comfortable in his role despite the fact that he may not have fit the mold of a traditional point guard.
Many looked to Taylor as one of, if not the, most-improved players in the conference. His out of body experience following a severe looking collision in Ann Arbor late in January provided a glimpse at the tools Taylor possessed to completely take over the game in a way no one else but Tucker could.
But sitting on that bench in Philadelphia, Kammron Taylor had reached the end of a late-season stretch in which many questioned whether his progression had flat-lined. And it turns out that the thought occurred to Taylor as well.
"I think I got complacent towards the end of the year," Taylor revealed. "I was satisfied with, well, I wasn't satisfied, but it was something I wasn't used to. Because, you know, last year was my second year playing Big Ten basketball. It was something that, I didn't do a good job of, I just didn't do a good job of trying to stay ahead of the game. I think once I thought I got to the top, I stopped. I stopped working hard. I stopped coming in the gym, putting up as many shots as I did to get me to where I was at the beginning of the year.
"Everything happens for a reason. I know now that in order to help my team, I have to continue to work hard every day in practice, and every day come in and work on my game."
In talking with Taylor through some late-season frustrations, he never came across as cocky or overconfident, in the way his self-described complacency might suggest. He came out of the locker room often times completely downtrodden. After both a late season offensive sputtering at Northwestern and a 33 percent team shooting day in a Big Ten tournament loss to Indiana, Taylor seemed entirely disappointed in his own performances as well as at a loss for the team's cold skid. Occasionally near tears, he failed to exude that same confidence he radiated earlier in the season.
Following the loss to Arizona, Taylor recognized the need to rededicate himself and work harder than ever before if he was going to continue to rise to the level his talent is capable of. But then came an off-season injury in which he caught his hand in another player's jersey. Taylor was back on the sideline.
"Having a broken thumb gave me time to sit down and reflect on, nothing is promised to you," Taylor said. "The game can be taken away from you just like that. Having two months to sit out and watch your teammates play everyday definitely gave me the hunger to, as soon as I got that cast off my hand, to get back in the gym everyday, work on my ball handling, work on my shooting.
"Because the better I am as an individual, I can help bring different things to the team."
That assessment could not be more correct. Tucker was desperate for help late in the season. Wisconsin's opponents did not respect the ability of the remaining Badgers to confidently knock down open looks or take the game into their own hands. Kickbacks from a double-teamed Tucker often resulted in hesitations just brief enough to give defenses a leg up, which likely helped to fuel the Badgers' shooting woes.
But it was not all about points and who averaged them. The Badgers needed leadership in all facets of the game, and perhaps nothing indicates that like the effect that Taylor's play was capable of having on the entire team.
One of the big question marks surrounding Taylor at the point concerned his ability to protect the ball and minimize mistakes. Sure enough, there turned out to be a correlation between his ability to do that and the Badgers' success in the win column. When Taylor's assist-to-turnover ratio stayed at least even, or higher than 1:1, Wisconsin went 15-2. Compare that to games in which Taylor's turnover total exceeded his assists and the Badgers went just 4-10.
"With Kamm, you won't know until you get in the heat of the fire, because it's all about taking care of the ball and making good decisions," said head coach Bo Ryan. "He can score. We know he's quick. But still, it's the other part of the game that needs to show improvement."
Ryan would seem to be correct in his evaluation. He usually is. There was no significantly discernable difference in Taylor's scoring output when the Badgers won, although he did shoot at a seven percent higher clip. It was his ability to manage a game and get some of the team's supporting players involved – many of whom were forced into unexpected roles with a shortened roster following winter break – that made an impact.
So despite the fact that Taylor is expected to rise up and serve a leadership role on what many are expecting to be one of the best Wisconsin teams in recent memory, there are still steps he needs to take to meet the expectations he holds for himself, and those which the coaches know he is capable of.
"I feel like Coach Ryan is definitely going to stay on me until he sees that I've arrived," Taylor said. ‘However long that takes."
With the pieces surrounding Taylor that will challenge him on a daily basis in practice, that arrival figures to be accelerated based on a significant competitiveness in the Wisconsin backcourt. Junior Michael Flowers became what Taylor described as a "gym rat" this summer, relentlessly working on his jump shot and one-on-one skills. And the most interesting development might be how quickly heralded freshman Trevon Hughes can progress for the Badgers, as he brings speed, good overall court vision and according to Taylor, plenty of toughness and grit.
"I want [Hughes] to bury [Kamm]," Ryan said, referring to the praise Hughes carried for Taylor entering the program. "Don't let Kamm score. Steal the ball from him. Because again, the best respect you can pay to a teammate is to beat him."
Around that point guard spot will be a number of additional scoring threats. Another guard, Jason Bohannon, potentially gives the Badgers the pure shooter they lost with the departure of Clayton Hanson in 2005. And redshirt freshman Mickey Perry was often times the best looking shot from the perimeter in practices last year – sometimes with the sure-firing Hanson by his side, who worked with the Badger scout team. Add the athleticism of Marcus Landry to the mix, a seasoned Brian Butch and a more structured role for Joe Krabbenhoft, and the Badgers are suddenly stocked with the potential any point guard would love to see.
"I'm very excited," Taylor said. "I feel like this can be a big year for the team if we just stick to the game plan and we say healthy and take care of business."
Of course all that is easier said than done. It is only October, and there is of course plenty of time for speculation as well as plenty to speculate. That is a good thing for Wisconsin, who is receiving preseason praise and the attention of an already sports-excited campus. But Alando Tucker cannot lead this team by himself if they want to meet the goals they expect of themselves.
"[Taylor] knows I'm going to have a lot of high expectations of him because he's a senior now," Tucker said. "It's one of those things that we're going to get it done. We're both leaders right now."
That is precisely how Taylor sees it.
"I just want to be a better leader out there on the floor," he said. "And just control the game – control every game. I don't want to have a good first half of the season and then fall off the second half of the season. I want to be consistent throughout the whole year. So my biggest thing is consistency."
During the summer, Tucker said he used the thought of that photograph as motivation any time he practiced a shot this summer and every time he lifted weights. "I thought of that moment," Tucker said.
But people seem to know what to expect of Tucker by now. It will be the pieces around him that decide how far this Badger team can go. Kammron Taylor will be striving for consistency, the end to any doubts over his game management, and as well as the chance to – as he sees it – finally arrive.
For Taylor, that's all the motivation he needs.