When it comes to untraditional routes, Tyshawn Taylor is the face of this label. From high school until now, Taylor has had a rollercoaster of a career, but one that has not stopped rewarding him. The four-year starter at Kansas had a lot to say in this interview. One of the nicer people I’ve talked to, I had the chance to talk to him about his time at Kansas, playing all over the world, and even the infamous “Hit me” story with Jason Kidd.
If you have the time, I highly recommend listening to the audio version. It is about 30 minutes long so some details won’t be captured in the written part, and is a very enjoyable listen. If not, enjoy the written section as well!
1) You were a Top 100 player out of high school, what made you pick Kansas?
Tyshawn: Honestly it was more that Kansas picked me. After Kansas won the national championship, a lot of the guys decided to go to the NBA, which meant they had a lot of open roster spots. I actually originally committed to play at the University of Marquette, because being from New Jersey I wanted to play in the Big East. The coach there at the time actually took a different job, which allowed me to open my recruitment back up, and that’s when Kansas went back up to the top of my list. They really started to pursue me hard and it was very hard to turn down right after they just won a national championship.
1a) Do you think your career path would have been different if you stayed at Marquette?
Tyshawn: I actually think about that a lot, and I don’t know. I think that playing in the Big East and being able to play against really good teams there would have put me on the big stage as well and allowed me to be successful. I’m not sure if the opportunity to play right away would have presented itself compared to Kansas. I probably would have had to sit a lot more during my freshman year and that’s why Kansas was a great fit because I could play right away.
2) What was the difference you saw every season in your game and the game from freshman to senior year?
Tyshawn: The biggest difference for me was the pace. I played much faster freshman year compared to my senior year when I played slower and more under control. During my freshman year, I was more of a surprise player and people didn’t really know what to expect from me. So just being able to play at a better pace and control the game was the biggest difference for me.
3) What was your reaction when you heard this year’s tournament was canceled?
Tyshawn: My natural reaction was to feel terrible for the guys who were excited about playing, especially the guys who would have had it be their first or only time and the seniors. After you see what’s going on in the world, you have to look at the bigger picture. It sucks for all the sports fans and it’s a terrible feeling. I’ve been apart of it but some schools are never apart of it. Kansas is spoiled because they’re used to being in the tournament year in and year out, but the people who don’t you feel bad for them.
3a) Do you think they should have played with no fans, suspended it, or do you agree with the decision to cancel it completely?
Tyshawn: I agree with the decision to cancel it because you can see what happened with the NBA. You don’t know who has it, how long they’ve had it, so to not have fans would have made it safer, but you don’t know if a coach, player, or media person has it. If I was a player, I would probably think “let’s just play”, but when you’re on the outside looking in, it’s something we can’t control, so the best thing to do was to cancel everything.
4) It is well known that Kansas has one of the best homecourt advantages in College Basketball. As someone who played four years at Allen Fieldhouse, what makes it so hard to play there?
Tyshawn: How passionate our fans are, and how involved they are. They get really invested in the game, so to come to AFH, it’s gonna be nothing but energy and people cheering. It’s going to be very high energy from start to finish and it’s tough to play in those environments. When you’re Kansas, every game is crazy because everyone wants to beat you so you feel that same energy when you’re on the road but it doesn’t compare to Allen Fieldhouse.
4a) Is there a road opponent that had a similar feel when you went there?
Tyshawn: Iowa State was always intense, and it is very underestimated. Another was when I played at Michigan State my freshman year. I can imagine Duke and North Carolina also being like that but I never got to play there.
5) In your final season, Kansas was just 8 points from a national championship. How long did it take to recover from that and what did you do to move on?
Tyshawn: I felt like that team accomplished so much that it was hard to feel bad about the loss. We lost to a team that was better than us, they beat us earlier that year, they had five pros on that team (Kentucky Wildcats), two of them were the one and two picks in the draft the next year. We played our hearts out and we were successful, so it was hard for me to feel sad for long. That was my last game but now I was really excited for my next step in my life because I felt like I had done enough to make the NBA and be drafted. There’s a picture of me trying to lift Thomas Robinson up, and I remember whispering in his ear, “bro were about to go to the NBA, be sad but be happy at the same time”.
6) What was the biggest change from college to the NBA and what is one piece of advice you have for rookies?
Tyshawn: The biggest transition for me was transitioning to being a professional. There’s a lot less structure in your life, more independence, and being much more responsible with your time. It’s easy to get lost in doing the wrong thing with your money with the time on your hands, and you have influences around you all the time that are sometimes positive and sometimes aren’t. Before it was mostly going to school and playing basketball, now it’s handling business, trying to be a business and conducting myself as a business, along with living the NBA lifestyle. My advice is you have to be mentally strong and be able to block out all distractions and keep working on your game and not the lifestyle.
7) You’ve played basketball all over the world, playing in four continents! What has this journey been like and what have you learned from it?
Tyshawn: To be able to say I’ve played basketball and traveled to four continents is crazy when I talk to my friends. It’s a blessing to play basketball and financially take care of myself to an extent. I’m just happy I’ve been able to take a game that started as a like and turned into something I’ve loved. I’ve made millions of friends, and this took me to places where I got to meet people I would never have met otherwise, and I’ve learned a lot about myself from this travel. It’s also hard being out of the country so much and being there more than here, but I’m enjoying it.
7a) Is it sometimes hard to adapt to the culture?
Tyshawn: That’s the biggest thing about it. Traveling sucks, being away from family sucks, but I think having to go to these different countries all the time and you’re soaked in their culture is sometimes hard. I’m eating different food, in different climates, different time zones, different languages, so it’s definitely hard to adjust to the culture. That and being away from my family, especially as a dad are the hardest parts. It’s a sacrifice you make for a short amount of time to be able to live a certain way for a long period, so that’s how I’ve gotten through it.
8) What makes Bill Self’s coaching style so special and what did you take from that when you went pro?
Tyshawn: I’ve been coached by some really good coaches in my life, and when I got to college, his style of coaching was so personal. He gets down to every detail so that everyone can understand why something is a certain way. As a point guard, you try to be as extensive as your coach, so when he can break down plays and certain things to us to a science, it helps you out on the court. He just has a way of getting everybody on the same page and gives us an in-depth understanding of that and it all made sense. It would just click every time. That’s why around Christmas time the team starts clicking and it just works.
9) What is one memory you’ll never forget from your time at Kansas?
Tyshawn: I was there for four years so I have a lot of memories, but I think the most memorable is the final four (where they went to the national championship game) stretch. To get past all those teams and how good those games were, and I was playing poorly until a certain point, but my teammates were playing great and carrying us. We seemed to figure it out every single time, and it has to do with Coach Self breaking teams down every time. Even if we weren’t clicking offensively, or someone was struggling, we’d always be able to figure it out.
I made the all-tournament team that year and had a really good year. That’s why after losing that championship game, it was hard to feel bad. I played well, I led a team of really good players, and we came up short, but it wasn’t coming up short to us because no one but us would have thought we would have gotten that far. I played on better teams at Kansas and we didn’t even make it that far so going into it, no one knew how good we’d be and to make it that far felt like a real accomplishment.
10) Who was the best player you’ve ever guarded?
Tyshawn: Russell Westbrook probably. Chris Paul’s also up there. In college, Pierre Jackson from Baylor was always a tough cover, Jacob Pullen on Kansas State also. The small guards that can shoot were always a tough job.
11) Do you have any plans of becoming involved with the Kansas team after your playing career is over?
Tyshawn: I do think at some point I want to give back to the game. I don’t know if that means coaching or being a trainer, but I’ve been playing basketball since I was 8 or 9 years old and I’ve had the passion and love for the sport since then. I’m a fan of the game and still watch even though it’s hard sometimes because I feel like I should still be out there at a certain level. When I’m done, I would love to coach, and if Coach Self would like to give me a job, hell yeah I’ll coach at Kansas!
12) You were part of a very infamous coaching story with Jason Kidd where he told you to “hit me” and spill his drink. Would you mind telling us that story?
Tyshawn: That’s like my one NBA highlight so I get tweeted this stuff all the time, but it was a genius idea by Jason Kidd actually. We had around 9 seconds and were down three and no timeouts. I hadn’t played the entire game, and he just subbed me in with ten seconds left, and I’m thinking what? I go in the game and then right away he subs me back out and when I’m coming out I hear every say Ty, and when I looked up Jason Kidd was standing right in front of me and I just read his lips. When he said that to me, it didn’t click right away, but I knew he was up to something. He put the cup right in front of his shoulder and I hit his arm and it falls all over the place.
While everyone is rushing to clean it up we’re in the huddle drawing up a play and we actually got a good shot but missed it. Everyone was thinking how genius it was but we were just bad actors. He ended up getting fined $25,000 for that. I’ve never told this part but he called me into his office and said thanks for doing that and they’re probably going to fine us but I’ll pay for yours and I said thanks I hope so! I was in the game for not even a second and he literally subbed me in to sub me out so I can bump him. When I’m a coach one day, I may have to use that one, it’s definitely in the back of the notebook.
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