Taylor taking strong mentality to NBA

Akshay Mirchandani

Isaiah Taylor didn’t get it. 

The then-skinny, long haired guard in high school couldn’t fathom why he was near the bottom of recruiting boards. Or why no one would give him a look. 

Three years later, an older, short-haired Taylor sits in a similar situation. He’s already decided he’s NBA bound, but is missing from mock drafts and prospect chatter. 

Déjà vu.

“That’s why I play with the passion I do,” Taylor said in February. “Back when I was in high school, nobody believed in me. Even when I committed to Texas, a lot of people was like ‘Yo, you got Isaiah Taylor, who is that?’”

Taylor officially declared for the NBA Draft in April, and decided he would hire an agent, officially slamming the door on a possible return to the Longhorns. Texas will lose his team-leading 15 points-per-game, his uncanny speed and the thing that helped him get to Austin in the first place — the ‘me against the world’ mentality. 

“I think he appreciates belief in him because he constantly feels like he is being slighted,” head coach Shaka Smart said duringthe season. 

Taylor played AAU ball for the Oakland Rebels — the same team Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard played for. Lillard and Taylor both flew under the radar heading into college, but Lillard ended up as a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

“I looked up to him as kind of like mentor,” Taylor said in February. “Him playing for the Oakland Rebels, watching him and I just kind of took on his mentality.”

Former Texas coach Rick Barnes offered Taylor a scholarship, and he was Austin bound. But the memory of being looked over time and again remained with him.

“I remember in 8th grade, I think his name was Mike Avery, I went to Phenom Camp with him, he got offed by Kentucky in 8th grade,” Taylor said. “I was like ‘Yo, this is crazy. I’m over here struggling just to even get a look.”

Then, it came together. Taylor started every game in his freshman season at Texas and averaged 12.7 points. But after the Longhorns underwhelmed in Taylor’s sophomore campaign, Barnes was let go and Taylor contemplated going pro. 

Smart was hired, and Taylor decided to give it another go at Texas. His stats improved across the board and he earned a spot on the All Big 12 First Team. The big moments piled up — a game-winner against Stanford in December, a 35-point outing against Texas Tech in January, 18 points against Oklahoma in February. 

The biggest moment might have been when it ended. Taylor drove to the lane like he had did countless times in burnt orange and dropped in a runner that tied an NCAA Tournament game against Northern Iowa. One half-court shot later, and Taylor was on his hands and knees.

“Unfortunately, we fell short, but just want to say I love those guys and to Coach Smart,” Taylor said after the game. “He’s been a great mentor to me, great mentor to the rest of our team, and been like a father figure to us on and off the court and he’s made us
all better.”

And then Taylor sat again. Another season out in the first round of the Big Dance, and another NBA decision to be made. Staying at Texas for a senior year might have propelled up draft boards. 

But this quirky, speedy 6-foot-3 guard has a point to make — the same point he wanted to make in high school.

“I just want to change people’s opinions,” Taylor said earlier this season. “I think that I’m one of the best guards in the country. So when people think a certain thing about me, I just want to prove them wrong.”

Déjà vu.