Isaiah Taylor fell to his knees.
Just over two seconds earlier, the junior guard made a floater to tie the University of Northern Iowa in crunch time. But the Longhorns’ hopes were crushed as Panthers senior guard Paul Jesperson nailed a half-court buzzer-beater to send Texas home in the NCAA Tournament on March 18.
In one heave, the chance for Taylor to leave his Longhorn career on a high note was gone.
He declared for the NBA Draft and hired an agent in April, ending his NCAA eligibility. After working out for 12 NBA teams in the last month, Taylor hopes to hear his name called Thursday night at the draft.
“It sounds cliche,” Taylor said. “But as a kid growing up playing basketball, watching [NBA stars] LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant, having an opportunity to play against them one day is a great feeling.”
Taylor knows he has a lot to work on before he plays against the stars he grew up watching. He said NBA executives have told him he needs to develop an outside shot to stick in the league — he shot just 31 percent from three as a junior. So, he spends his days working with former NBA player and coach John Lucas to improve his mechanics.
Dan Fox, director of scouting for EV Hoops, said Taylor needs to improve his shooting and decision-making to succeed in the NBA. EV Hoops is an independent scouting firm that sells its services to professional teams.
Fox praised Taylor’s quickness, but said he tends to rush his decisions, leading to turnovers and poor shot attempts.
“His jump shot got better, but it’s not where it needs to be,” Fox said. “He’s [also] always at a 100 miles per hour … I would have loved to see him get into the [paint] in ways that are a little more under control.”
Fox said Taylor stands as a top-notch leader despite his weaknesses. And the point guard’s Longhorn résumé falls in line with that opinion.
Most recently, Taylor ushered the Longhorns to a 20-13 season and led them in scoring. Head coach Shaka Smart said Taylor was particularly instrumental in boosting the team’s confidence after senior center Cameron Ridley broke his foot in December.
“For a while there [after Ridley’s injury], if you remember, we weren’t very good,” Smart said. “[He] basically took our team and said ‘No, we’re not allowing this to be the end of our season. We’re still going to have a successful year.’”
Former teammate Jonathan Holmes echoed Smart’s sentiments. He said Taylor’s teammates will gravitate towards him for his work ethic and “chip on the shoulder” mentality.
“He’s a good leader because he just works hard.” Holmes said. “Anytime you have a guy like that who works hard and competes, you want that guy leading your team.”
Taylor takes pride in that leadership. He said it stems from the doubt he faced as an unheralded recruit.
“When I committed to Texas, nobody believed in me,” Taylor said. “Nobody believed I could do what I did.”
Now Taylor hopes to bring that frame of mind to the NBA. Fox said Taylor should earn a spot on an NBA Summer League roster, even if he goes undrafted.
But Taylor isn’t worrying about how others perceive him — or where he’s selected. He’s focused on just one thing: conquering the opportunity.
“If you make it to the NBA, you’re considered one of the best at your profession,” Taylor said. “This is a once in a lifetime chance, and I just want to seize the moment.”