2013-'14 Player Preview: #25 Steve Taylor, Jr.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Buzz Williams called Steve Taylor, Jr. the best freshman he'd ever signed at Marquette, and Taylor flashed that ability on occasion in his rookie campaign. Can he take the next step this year?

This was supposed to be the part of the preseason preview story where we moved on from the unproven freshmen and talked about someone who's played organized basketball beyond the high school level. And we're doing that, 'cept we're forced to detour from incoming players to cats who've been through the Big East meat grinder before.

Today's post, if you're catching my drift, was supposed to be about JUCO transfer Jameel McKay, who garnered impressive accolades starring for Indian Hills Community College last season and was expected to get a fair amount of run this season on Marquette's front line. Those expectations, of course, were scuttled when McKay ninjaed out of the program without playing a single game, just days after Marquette Madness.

And that decision brings us to today's featured player, sophomore forward Steve Taylor, Jr., who I suspect might have a bit to do with McKay's hasty exit from the team. In his freshman campaign, Taylor was something of a rare bird in the Buzz Williams-era Golden Eagles: a freshman whose minutes didn't take a precipitous nosedive as the season wore on. Unlike Vander Blue and Todd Mayo, for example, Steve was still getting decent run in the waning months of the 2013 campaign: 12 minutes against Nova on February 23, 16 against Syracuse two days later, and a game-changing 18 against Rutgers at the RAC, when his 7 points kept MU from getting run out of the RAC.

As you'd expect, Taylor's game lacked a good amount of polish, but he made up for that with tons of energy and relentless attacks on the offensive glass, where he grabbed 36 total rebounds at a staggering clip of 15.5%. To be sure, he's got a long ways to go before he'll be anything resembling a finished product; at the same time, you're hard-pressed to argue with Coach Buzz's assessment after Taylor had a highly-productive turn against USF last January: "Hang on, baby. He's gonna be good. Real good."

Taylor's offseason got off to the worst kind of start when he underwent surgery to remove a benign growth from his knee, and things were looking dicey when it was reported that he'd fallen behind in his recovery because of atrophy in his quadriceps following the procedure. But if the evidence from Marquette's scrimmages can be trusted, Taylor seems to be back on the right track -- and if he is, maybe McKay's decision to skip town instead of playing fifth fiddle to Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner and Chris Otule and Taylor makes a bit more sense.

Minimum Expectations: With McKay's departure and Juan Anderson's move to the backcourt, there are minutes to be had behind Jamil Wilson at the 3 and the Oxtule at the 4/5. Asking for double the numbers from Taylor's freshman season might be a bit too much for minimum expectations, so let's go 50% increase over 2012-'13: 12 minutes a game, 4.5 points, 3.0 rebounds sound good to you as a starting point?

In My Worst Nightmare: The leg isn't quite right and never gets quite right, Taylor's ability to attack the glass on offense is hampered, and Anderson is forced back into duty behind Jamil Wilson. Basically, Taylor repeats Joe Fulce's senior season -- and that is no knock on Big Joe, who was one of the guttiest players to ever pull on a Marquette uniform. That's simply to say: tall, skinny guys with oodles of potential and bad knees are the stuff nightmare fuel is made of, and I'd be a very, very sad boy if that's the path Taylor found himself travelling.

In My Wildest Dream: Taylor's career path doesn't track Joe Fulce's, but instead goes the way of Jimmy Butler, who, like Taylor, carved out a niche in his first season at MU before blossoming into the team's best player in his last two years. With Jamil Wilson sure to get big run this year, Taylor probably won't have the opportunity that Butler did in his junior year, so, even in my wildest dream, I can't hope for 15 points and 7 rebounds a game. Nope; I'm hoping for the 8-to-10 point, 5-rebound year that sets up the 15-point, 7-rebound season next year.

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