By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK – Tyshawn Taylor had glanced quickly at the NCAA Tournament bracket on Sunday evening, but hadn’t looked too closely as he and the Nets prepared to host the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday evening. When he was told his alma mater, Kansas, was a No. 1 seed in the South Region with a third-round game against either No. 8 seed North Carolina or No. 9 seed Villanova on tap this weekend, that got his attention.
Taylor’s Jayhawks defeated the Tar Heels, 80-67, in last season’s Midwest Regional final and it went down as arguably the former St. Anthony High School star’s best collegiate game after he went for a game-high 22 points on 10-for-19 shooting to go along with six rebounds, five assists and five steals.
A year removed from that effort, which was part of a run to the national championship game, Taylor admits that despite living out his dream of playing in the NBA, there is still nothing like March Madness.
“If you have the chance to go through March Madness and through the tournament, you realize it’s an experience that you’ll never have again,” Taylor told SNY.tv. “It’s dope. The atmosphere, how important every game is and just the importance of the whole situation is big. It’s big time basketball and once you leave there, you feel like you’ll never get it back.”
Taylor has kept an eye on this current Kansas team, which earned that 1-seed off a 29-5 record, including 10 wins in its last 11 games following an uncharacteristic three-game losing streak in early February.
With the exception of freshman star and probable top-3 NBA Draft pick Ben McLemore, these Jayhawks do not have the star-power of Taylor’s teams, but they’re effective just the same, outscoring their opponents by an average of nearly 14 points per game while holding the opposition to 36 percent from the field for the season.
“I think they can make a run, I think they’re deep enough to do it, I think they have the right pieces, I think they’re a veteran team and definitely well-coached,” Taylor said. “Sometimes, they have some trouble scoring the ball, but I think they’re great defensively and to win in March, you gotta play defense and that’s what got us to the championship game last year. We weren’t the highest scoring team, sometimes we had trouble scoring, but we got stops and that’s what this team does.”
Taylor may not be playing for Kansas anymore, but he’ll have the opportunity to live vicariously through Florida senior guard Mike Rosario, his longtime friend and a fellow-member of the vaunted St. Anthony Class of 2008. That crew signed six players to Division I scholarships, including Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall, went 32-0 as seniors and finished as the consensus No. 1 team in the country.
While Taylor had something of a star-crossed first three years in Lawrence, he put that behind him with a monster senior season that helps him go down as one of the more memorable players in recent Kansas memory, capped by a 127-21 record and the appearance in the national title game.
Like Taylor, Rosario’s path to his senior season has been a mixed bag. A Rutgers transfer after the 2009-10 season, the combustible 6-foot-3 guard sat out 2010-11, played sparingly last season and has now emerged as a key piece of the puzzle for a Gators squad that went 26-7 and will be the 3-seed in the South Region following Sunday’s 66-63 loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Championship Game.
Taylor noted he that speaks to Rosario regularly, including soon after Sunday’s loss to Ole Miss.
“He told me earlier this season he kind of looked at my blueprint on my career and my season last year and tried to do the same thing,” Taylor said. “He said he understood he had to transfer and a lot of people forgot about him. He sat out a year, didn’t play that much last year and he’s out here now trying to have the biggest year he can.”
Rosario is averaging 12.3 points in 29.7 minutes and has started all 33 contests for the Gators. For his career, he has 1,662 points, including 1,051 in his two seasons at Rutgers.