Steve Taylor’s sophomore season was an incredibly frustrating one, and it had nothing to do with how his knee was feeling.
The 6-foot-8 forward from Chicago logged nine DNP’s in his second season at Marquette, and logged double-digit minutes in just six of the Golden Eagles’ last 26 games. During the season it was presumed that Taylor, who underwent surgery in May to remove a benign growth in his right knee, was struggling to get and stay healthy and, as a result, was given limited playing time by former head coach Buzz Williams as his team struggled to a 17-15 record, missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine seasons.
As it turns out, according to Taylor, that wasn’t the case.
“I never went to Buzz and said, ‘My knee hurts,’ or ‘my knee’s not strong, or it’s aching.’ It never was a point where I came to him and said I was hurting and can’t go,” he told Paint Touches at Tuesday’s press conference introducing new head coach Steve Wojciechowski. “I never was at a point where I had to sit because of my knee.”
Taylor spoke in early August about his recovery from the surgery, noting that muscle atrophy in his quadricep muscle had lengthened his timetable, but that he was hopeful he could return to practice by the end of the month, just shy of the original 3-4 month timetable Marquette predicted in a press release.
The Simeon Career Academy product returned to the court in time for Boot Camp, Marquette’s rigorous offseason running program, where he was a limited participant while still building strength in the knee.
He completed Boot Camp under Williams’ guidelines, earning practice gear and logged 28 minutes the next night at the Marquette Madness scrimmage. Taylor said that once he was able to run full-speed, which happened before the regular season began, there were no longer any restrictions on what he could do, both from head trainer Ernest Eugene and himself.
Taylor shot out of the gates in the regular season, averaging 15 minutes through four games, which included a 16-point, 11-rebound effort against Grambling State and a nine-rebound performance against Ohio State.
But the minutes began to dwindle when the calendar flipped to December. From Nov. 29 to Jan. 18, a span of 12 games, Taylor played 28 combined minutes in the five contests he saw action. He provided a spark in the Golden Eagles’ offense on Jan. 20 in an overtime win against Georgetown, scoring 14 points in a season-high 23 minutes, but never quite cemented himself in Williams’ rotation the final two months of the season.
His defense was never a strong suit and he shot just 32 percent from the field, but for a team that lost 6-foot-8 junior college Jameel McKay and did not get much production from fellow wing Juan Anderson, it’s hard to imagine that there wasn’t a spot for Taylor and his versatile skill set in Marquette’s sub-par performing offense.
And for Taylor, the most frustrating part was that he doing everything required of him in practice, but was told on gamedays that he’d be sitting, or playing limited minutes, because of his knee. Taylor said he never missed a practice because of his knee, and though he was never 100 percent Eugene cleared him to play and Taylor said he was ready to go.
“When we’re in practice, what’s the issue then? Practicing 2 ½ hours, why is my knee never the issue then? Our practices are harder than the games, so my thing was, why wouldn’t you tell me to sit out in practice? Why would you make me practice for 2 ½ hours and then when it’s gametime you sit me and say it’s my knee?”
Taylor verbalized this to Williams on multiple occasions, saying he had “plenty of meetings” with the former Marquette head coach to discuss why he was being held out of games after participating in a week’s worth of grueling practices.
“I just felt like I got to a point where it was pointless to keep talking to him,” he admitted, more in frustration than anything else. “He was the head coach and that’s what he said, so I had to go with it. (It was) very frustrating, to know that I’m OK and had to sit out.”
That set into motion long consideration at season’s end about where Taylor wanted to be. He admitted that if Williams was still coaching Marquette, there’s a good chance he would have looked elsewhere.
“I was sold on just getting away from here, and it hurt me because I like this place a lot,” Taylor said. “I built a lot of relationships with people and he made it hard for me because I wasn’t playing. I understand that I like going to school, but I like playing basketball. And when I’m not playing, that’s hard.”
Taylor smiled when asked if his plans had changed after hearing of Wojciechowski’s hiring. Derrick Wilson said he expects every non-senior player on Marquette’s roster will return, and it sounds as though Taylor will make the prediction come true. Taylor said he was able to watch a few video clips of Wojciechowski playing at Duke, noting his coach’s defensive intensity. But more important was the way Wojciechowski spoke to Taylor and the rest of the players, assuring them he understood the hardships of seeing a head coach and entire coaching staff leave abruptly, and that left an imprint.
“First impressions are everything, and he nailed that as soon as he got in,” Taylor said. “He told us he understood that it was tough as a player this last week, because you’re hearing a lot of different voices, hearing from a lot of different places and schools and stuff, so he understood all that.”
Taylor said he’s continuing to work toward his knee being 100 percent healthy, and he plans to go back home this summer and work out at his old high school like he does each offseason. He’s also interested to see what happens to his friend and former teammate Jabari Parker, who is likely to enter the NBA draft and be a top-2 pick.
And when he is back on the court, he’s hoping he receives the chance to show off his talents. Marquette loses centers Chris Otule and Davante Gardner as well as forward Jamil Wilson this offseason, meaning Taylor could be the Golden Eagles’ de facto center.
“I just want to be the player I’ve always been: a guy that loves to rebound, loves to get dirty, do all the little stuff to help the team win, that’s always been me. I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win, if it’s getting all the rebounds I’ll get all of them. (Wojciechowski) coached Jabari, so he knows what I mean when I say I’ll do whatever it takes to help my team win,” he said.
“I want to get back to being that player.”