Tyshawn Taylor’s messy thrilling beautiful masterpiece

I remember the first time I met Tyshawn Taylor, which is unusual. I don’t remember meeting anybody else on that team. It was 2008, and he had just arrived on Kansas’ campus for summer school. He was wearing a white v-neck shirt. That look would become pretty popular over the next year or so, but Tyshawn was the first person I saw in it. He looked cool. I wrote earlier this week that sports are not cool, even though there are cool people in them. Tyshawn is one of those people. Tyshawn is cool. He just is. He has style and charisma. He’s his own man.

I don’t know exactly why I bring that up, but for whatever reason that has always seemed significant to me. I don’t know much about Tyshawn’s aptitude outside of basketball, but I have always assumed he is the kind of person who would thrive in a creative field. He has always seemed so sharply aware of the world and his place within it. He sometimes seems tormented by perception. His own and that of others. Tyshawn has always worn his emotions on the outside. He is a beautiful basketball player to watch, in part because he plays brilliantly, but also because watching him play basketball makes it feel like you know him. No other game is as intimate. In basketball arenas, the fans are right there. Close enough to read the tattoos. The players don’t wear helmets or hats. And basketball is not played behind the wall of structure and design the way football is. Basketball is naked and free. It is played at 5,000 RPM with no seatbelt, and Tyshawn Taylor plays it so honestly. His face always lets you in. His shoulders tell a story. Most players aren’t like that. Most players play covered in the pretenses of Intensity, Unflappability and Invulnerability. Tough guys. Tyshawn isn’t like that. Tyshawn always seems a little vulnerable, and a lot human. The beauty is in that honesty. It can sometimes feel like you’re watching an artist.

When Kansas played at Kansas State recently, and Tyshawn was messing up at the end of the game, and his shoulders started talking and his face started beaming out his insides and he missed the free throws and turned it over, I wrote on Twitter that it looked like Tyshawn was about to paint a masterpiece and cut off his ear. When I say watching Tyshawn play is like watching an artist, I don’t mean he is such a great player he transcends sports, I mean he makes it feel like you’re watching someone express themselves in the most imperfect, crazy, honest way they’re capable of doing it.

You can say many things about Tyshawn, and everybody seems to have something  to say about him. But whatever you say, say this too: Tyshawn Taylor is unforgettable.

If that wasn’t true before, I don’t think anybody at Kansas will ever forget about him now. I do believe Tyshawn became a Kansas legend on Saturday, when he played 44 minutes at an intensity and under a pressure most people will never know. He made one turnover. He scored 24 points. He scored nine points in overtime. Twice, he answered a huge Missouri play with one of his own, and when it came time to decide the game, it was Taylor on the foul line, with that face and those shoulders. He made them both, and Kansas won.

Jason King of ESPN.com got a great anecdote about that moment. Tyshawn’s mom, Jeannell, covered her eyes when her boy stepped to the line. She peaked through her fingers to see her son come through in the clutch, to see her son become a hero. “I broke down and cried,” she told Jason. “That’s my baby.”

Jeannell is such a big part of Tyshawn’s story. That sounds stupid, because considering she is the one who gave him birth, she is pretty much the biggest part of Tyshawn’s story. But there is more to it. It is difficult to explain without getting into vagueness and conjecture, and I don’t think it’s responsible to do that, but it is fair and accurate to say Tyshawn carries a heavy burden in his family, a greater one, even, than most kids from tough backgrounds. A greater one than someone his age should have to. I don’t know much, and I don’t mean to imply I do, but I know enough to know some of the valleys in the rolling hills of his career have not been his fault.

And yet there he was. Here he is. He has been on a peak for two months, mostly. He might be the Big 12 player of the year. He might end up on the All-America team, and if he does for the rest of time you’ll look up into the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse and see it: Taylor 10. Right up there with Chamberlain, Manning and Pierce. Can you imagine that?

What is the point of all this? I don’t know, really. That’s the good thing about having a blog. I don’t need a nut graph. I just found myself thinking about him last night and today, this incandescent kid from New Jersey who loves clothes and Jay-Z quotes and is at his best when he is right up on the rails, skating on the razor blade that separates control and chaos, the kid who can make basketball feel like something ethereal.

And I think we might have seen his masterpiece.


24 thoughts on “Tyshawn Taylor’s messy thrilling beautiful masterpiece

  1. Man, what a great read. I love college basketball for stories like this — I really enjoyed basketball games more than football games when I was in school.

  2. This makes me sad that I have missed so much of KU basketball in the last couple of years. But to me, it seems that Tyshawn Taylor is one of those players who makes fans out of spectators and gives kids a desire to play basketball. Paul Pierce was that player for me.

  3. As a fan, I’m guiltier than most of piling on Tyshawn over the years. But damn, I’m going to miss him.

  4. Derek Hardnett……….tyshawn is a gamer. God gave him a talent and I’m glad to see he’s taking advantage of it and not abusing it like so many others. Tyshawn,keep up the good work. The sky is the limit!

  5. This is a great story. Tyshawn is an even greater story. As a current student of KU, and a Kansas Basketball fanatic, I can honestly say that Tyshawn Taylor has been my favorite point guard at KU throughout my time here so far. Tyshawn is more than just a basketball player, he is an honest and real human being, who bears the weight of the world on his shoulders every gameday. Last night’s game against Missouri proved what a true hero Tyshawn Taylor is. His incredible performance showed skill, confidence, and passion for the game. I can only hope that after this year KU fans will look up in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse and see his name hang there with the other greats who have played at Kansas.
    Experiencing last nights game, was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Truly amazing. And to tell you the truth, I couldn’t tell you a recap or a play-by-play of the game because I was too caught up in how loud and incredible the atmosphere at Allen Fieldhouse was. We are Kansas Basketball, and that is what basketball is all about. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

  6. The gayest story I’ve ever read. When he makes a mistake on the court, all I hear is he sucks, from ku fans. Worst fans ever!

  7. i love ku fans because they are always on somebody’s nuts after a good game, but ready to see the same guy on the bench after a five minute bad stretch the next game

  8. its called passion! that’s what the Kansas Program Breeds! Passion for Sport, Passion for the Game, Passion for Our School! We Are Kansas! and apparently mr. anonymous who wrote at 10:19 pm …you are not!

  9. Thank you so much, for your blog. I have been so upset since the Missouri game. Most of the commentary after the game did not even mention that it was Ty who won that game in its last moments. I don’t know why Ty is treated the way he is in the media. But, your comments express my feelings exactly. If you had known Ty through his high school career, you would know what you are seeing in his game this last couple of months is what we who know him well recognize as his game period. I have been screaming since he has been at KU turn him loose and let him play,

  10. Very interesting that you would say that he’s a gamer Derek Hardnett, when you’re the biggest gamer of them all. I mean telling all your women that Tyshawn is your Godson, and that on weekends his dad used to drop him off to you and go hang out with other women, and that his mother is a drunk, and a hood rat, and that she’s not your type. Come to find out like all of the other women you’ve used that she’s definitely not your “Godsons” mother, she’s one of your MANY women. Sounds like you’re the GAMER!

  11. By the way Derek, I hope that the IRS takes everything you have, and I hope you don’t get one dime from Tyshawn.

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