Not a hot-shot prospect, UW's Jordan Taylor has made himself one of the best in college basketball.
Wednesday is college basketball's national signing day for high school seniors and, if you follow that sort of thing, you will hear lots of talk about No. 1 recruiting classes and individual player rankings along with glowing testimony from giddy coaches and in-the-know recruitniks who may or may not be experts.
But before the next class of men's hoops recruits are signed, sealed and delivered — pending approval by the NCAA clearinghouse, of course — I would like to offer up a cautionary tale about what to believe and what not to believe.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jordan Taylor.
Back in 2008, the University of Wisconsin's senior point guard was on nobody's national top 100 list. Although he was named Mr. Basketball in Minnesota, Taylor was just one of many three-star recruits trying to survive in a five-star world.
Today, Taylor is a preseason first-team All-American.
Taylor's selection to the preseason Associated Press All-American team along with four sophomore stars from national powerhouses last week speaks volumes about him, the UW program and the state of college basketball in general.
Indeed, other than his ability to play the game at the highest level, Taylor has little in common with the other four on the AP team: Harrison Barnes of North Carolina, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, Terrance Jones of Kentucky and Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut. Coming out of high school in 2010, they were the kind of high-profile players everyone will be talking about when national letters of intent are signed today.
A look back at four well-known recruiting websites — ESPNU, Rivals, Scout and MaxPreps — from two years ago reveals what kind of company Taylor is keeping as UW prepares to open its season against Kennesaw State Saturday.
Barnes, Sullinger and Jones were consensus five-star recruits in 2010. Barnes and Sullinger were ranked in the top five on all four lists. Jones was ranked as high as sixth and no lower than 13th in his class.
Lamb wasn't quite as highly ranked as the other three, but he was a consensus four-star recruit. He went unranked by ESPNU, but landed between 75th and 88th on the other three lists.
And how does that compare to Taylor's rankings coming out of high school? Truth is, there is no comparison.
Despite a stellar career at his suburban Minneapolis high school, Taylor wasn't in the top 100 on any of the four lists in 2008 and was widely considered to be a three-star recruit. Rivals, the only website that ranks more than 100 players, had him 124th in the country. ESPNU had him 21st on its list of point guards that year.
Actually, Taylor's UW teammate and fellow Minnesotan, center Jared Berggren, was higher on most lists than Taylor. Berggren was ranked 74th by Rivals and 85th by Scout. He was ranked the 15th-best center by ESPNU.
Since that time, Taylor has overtaken every member of his recruiting class who didn't leave early for a shot at professional basketball. And he's clearly a better player than some of those who did.
So what happened with Taylor? Exactly what is supposed to happen in college sports, that's what.
Taylor came to UW, worked on his game and improved every year. He was a role player as a freshman, a starter for much of his sophomore year and an All-Big Ten Conference player as a junior. Now, he's considered one of the five best players in the country (actually, he was third in the voting).
The credit for his rise to prominence is shared equally by Taylor and coach Bo Ryan and his staff.
Ryan has a well-deserved reputation as a coach who can teach young men how to play the game and develop them to their fullest potential. Taylor is strong, skilled, tough, intelligent, mature and driven. He's a leader, a scorer and a point guard whose assist-to-turnover ratio is nothing short of amazing given how much he handles the ball.
Clearly, Taylor has received great coaching at UW. Just as important, however, he has been willing to be coached.
Not all scholarship players show up on campus with that attitude these days. Some want to run up and down the floor or have the offense revolve around them in some misguided attempt to impress NBA scouts. Some want to play one season and leave for the NBA. Very few care about using college to develop their games and their lives.
Taylor is the exception. He has used his four years at UW to improve his game both mentally and physically and become the best player he can be, which, we now know, is pretty darn good.
That is a cautionary tale a lot more people should be watching as the high school seniors decide their futures today.
Contact Tom Oates at email@example.com or 608-252-6172.