NEW YORK — Night after night, after long winter days pursuing his dream of playing professional basketball at St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J., Tyshawn Taylor would come home and flip on the television.
Legendary St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, one of the sport's most revered drill-masters, may have worked him over, but Taylor was never far away from his ultimate goal with New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets games flashing in front of him.
"The games were always on," Taylor said. "I remember sitting in my house, coming home from a practice, and watching LeBron (James) score like 59 or something in the Garden. It was just one of those storied games that you probably won't ever forget. And it was inside Madison Square Garden."
Taylor's last thought is the most important, with the No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks taking on the No. 13 Memphis Tigers in the Jimmy V Classic tonight in the Garden. The famed arena sits on top of the hustle and bustle of Penn Station, which is fitting because every great basketball journey seems to have made a memorable stop here at some point.
"There's so much tradition in that building," KU forward Markieff Morris said. "Jordan. John Starks. LeBron. All the great players have played there. It's a great feeling to be able to play in that gym."
Markieff and brother Marcus hail from down the road in Philadelphia and both played in the Garden at the Jordan Brand Classic in 2008.
"Everything is special," Marcus said. "Just the atmosphere. Everybody always talks about the Garden. It's in New York. It's one of the best places it could be in. You're playing on the same court as Jordan, Magic, Bird, those guys."
Notice that the Morris twins think of some different players starring in the Garden but connect on Jordan. Nobody relished going off on the game's biggest stage like MJ, who scored 55 points against the Knicks five games into his first comeback in 1995. The Jayhawks know that their Garden moment is out there for the taking, too, but they have to resist the temptation to make tonight about their individual exploits.
"I wouldn't go into the game looking at it that way because that's the NBA and this is college," said Marcus Morris, the most likely KU player to own the spotlight. "You just go in and try to get the 'W' by any means necessary. If I have a good game, I have a good game. If I don't, it doesn't matter as long as we win the game."
For the Jayhawks to win the game, they're going to need the Morris twins to be on the floor. Marcus and Markieff have had to sit significant portions of KU's back-to-back close wins over Arizona and UCLA because of foul trouble. Playing in the Garden, it could be easy for them to lose their composure.
"They are silly fouls," KU coach Bill Self said. "You can't put your hands on people when they drive it. And you gotta play your man before he catches it and things like that. But they'll get better at that. You know, our guys are going to foul. You just can't commit the silly ones."
Memphis will undoubtedly try to challenge Kansas inside as the Wildcats and Bruins did. Even if they have success there, the Tigers will have to contend with the speed of Taylor, who has emerged as one of the bright spots of this young season.
In KU's 77-76 victory over UCLA last Thursday, Taylor came alive down the stretch with six unanswered points, helping the Jayhawks take the lead. He finished with a team-high 17 points.
Tonight, just across the Hudson River from his hometown of Hoboken, N.J., he'll have the chance to show his newfound maturity as a player. Taylor played one high school game in the Garden and is eager to do it again.
"It's going to be nice to have a lot of my family there that hasn't gotten a chance to see me play yet in college except on TV," Taylor said. Plus, "It's Madison Square Garden."