ST. LOUIS — Tyshawn Taylor, as his nearly 22,000 Twitter followers will tell you, has the gift of gab.
As he sat on a stool inside Kansas’ locker room Thursday, being barraged by a variety of questions from reporters looking for a story, Taylor was having the time of his life.
“I could do this all day with you guys,’’ Taylor said.
Seriously? Because most athletes regard these media sessions, in which bodies are pressed against one another in tight quarters, as a cross between teeth pulling and eye gouging.
“Oh man, this is fun,’’ said Taylor, KU’s Kansas’ senior guard who is not only his team’s spokesman but also one of its two best players. “This is enjoyable.’’
OK, Tyshawn, if you say so.
But it makes sense, really. Taylor has been yapping since he arrived in Lawrence four years ago. And he was no doubt talking a lot as he helped Saint Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J., to a 32-0 record and USA Today’s mythical national championship as a senior.
KU media relations director Chris Theisen said Taylor has never turned down a request to do an interview. And of course, everybody knows about the fires Taylor has started on his Twitter account and the fight he was involved in with some KU football players during his sophomore season that resulted in a thumb injury that sidelined him for a few weeks before the start of the 2009-10 season.
I doubt Taylor was mute in the war of words that led to that altercation.
Taylor definitely has the gift of gab. Or the curse, depending on your viewpoint.
“Yeah, he’s a good talker,’’ KU coach Bill Self said. “He can tweet, too. But I’ve always liked Ty and I’ve loved him as a player. If I was in college, I would want to hang with Ty. He’s a cool kid.’’
That he is, and it’s obvious by the way his teammates gravitate toward him. Taylor, whose career has been marked by inconsistency, was called out by a KU fan on Twitter this season. Rather than ignore the tweet or block the tweeter, Taylor shot back.
But with experience, Taylor has mostly been better about keeping his emotions in check. He usually thinks now, he says, before he acts.
“Tyshawn is a great guy off and on the court,’’ teammate Kevin Young said. “I’m more of a quiet guy, but he’s not. He speaks his mind. He’ll remind us when we’re messing up or when we need to step up. He’s a great leader and one of the funniest guys on the team.’’
Taylor has had a fantastic senior season and has helped elevate the Jayhawks from a team with major questions in October to one that has reached another Sweet 16 and looks like it could advance farther.
He’s averaging 16.9 points after never breaking into double figures previously. He leads KU in assists and is shooting close to 50 percent. He has put the Jayhawks on his shoulders in four or five games and while 6-foot-10 teammate Thomas Robinson gets most of the national attention, I think Taylor has been a co-MVP.
Yes, he still turns the ball over too much. But at this point, haven’t KU fans decided it’s best when Taylor’s motor revs at a high rate, mistakes and all?
“I think Ty’s been a guy who has gotten in his own way some,’’ Self said, speaking not about the turnovers, but about Taylor’s propensity to occasionally let his mouth wander. “He has put himself in a position for a large part of his career where he probably didn’t know that I liked him as much as I do.
“And now, without question, I think he knows that I really like him. I really like this kid.’’
What’s not to like? Though he’s scored only 20 combined points in KU’s two NCAA Tournament games so far, Taylor has been dynamic for most of the season.
He’s scoring all these points, but has taken more than 15 shots in only two games. He’s not firing up ill-advised three-pointers often.
But Taylor needs to have one of his giant games on the big stage. In 11 NCAA Tournament games, he’s averaging only 7.6 points.
As he sat amidst the reporters with their recorders and cameras, Taylor spoke confidently about his season, his career, the game against North Carolina State and who he is.
He could do one of those Dove commercials because he is definitely comfortable in his own skin.
Meanwhile, Self just had to effuse more praise on Taylor.
“He’s been about as big a treat to coach as anybody I’ve ever had,’’ he said. “I’ve always been fond of guys that have to go through some stuff to get where they eventually end up. And he’s had to go through some stuff.’’
But it hasn’t made Taylor bitter. It hasn’t soured him on playing college basketball. Through it all, he’s maintained a ready smile and an eagerness to talk.
“Yeah, I don’t know exactly why that is,’’ Taylor said. “I know my mom’s got a big mouth, so maybe it’s something I inherited.’’