Isaiah Taylor believed in himself. The only problem was that college coaches in his home state of California weren’t quite so certain of his prospects after the sophomore guard injured his knee.
So Taylor and his family made a decision. They packed their bags and moved to Houston, where Taylor could reestablish himself on the national radar and prove to coaches he could compete in a challenging basketball culture.
“It was a move [my family and I] decided to make,” Taylor said. “I blew up down there, and a lot of coaches started to recognize me. If I would have had a choice, I would have liked to stay in California. But once I came to Texas I came to see how people recognized my talent.”
Taylor isn’t short on that. His knee injury limited his exposure in California, but the guard exploded once he reached The Village School. His speed and quick feet allow him to consistently blow past defenders, and his pass-first mentality appealed to many coaches. Taylor drew interest from many Division 1 schools, including SMU and head coach Larry Brown, who knows a few things about developing point guards.
But Taylor chose Texas, in part because of reputation — not the damaged perception stemming from last year’s 16-18 performance, resulting in Texas missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in the Rick-Barnes era.
“We don’t want to look at this year as a rebuilding year,” Taylor said. “We want to stay competitive no matter what. We want to be part of the solution, to have Texas be Texas basketball.”
Taylor is in position to alter the culture in Austin immediately. The freshman will start at point guard, pushing the Longhorns’ leading returning scorer, Javan Felix, to shooting guard. Taylor’s game is an embodiment of the offensive shift Barnes hopes to institute — a selfless up-tempo attack with an emphasis of working the ball inside-out.
“He’s very fast, quick with the ball, with good vision,” Barnes said. “He sees things. He’s done a good job understanding what his job is — getting people involved.”
The Longhorns’ post players appreciate Taylor’s ability to find the open man. His quickness allows him to reach the basket effortlessly, drawing defenders and allowing his bigs space to work. Sophomore center Cameron Ridley, a former five-star recruit, is expected to be the focal point of Texas’ offense. When asked about Taylor, all he could do was grin.
“He’s a pass-first point guard, which I like a lot,” Ridley said.
Taylor is often compared with former Texas point guard T.J. Ford, who helped hang the Longhorns’ most recent Final Four banner and enjoyed a lengthy NBA career. It’s a tough parallel for Taylor. Ford was one of the best players in college basketball in his time at Texas, but he’s humbled by the idea.
“T.J. Ford is one of the best ever to go to Texas,” Taylor said. “He made it to the NBA, made millions of dollars. He’s lived the dream that these 12 guys want to have.”