The streets of Hoboken, N.J., were never that far from the NBA cathedrals that dotted the New York metropolitan area. Madison Square Garden was a few miles across the Hudson River in Manhattan. And for years, the New Jersey Nets played at the Meadowlands, eight miles or so from the heart of Hoboken.
This is where Tyshawn Taylor grew up, right smack-dab in between the homes of two NBA franchises. But then again, Taylor says, there were certainly times when the NBA felt like another world, a place only populated by basketball’s one percent — or better.
Maybe some of those feelings came from Taylor’s days in the famed St. Anthony’s High School program in Jersey City. Taylor was just a rail-thin talent on a team full of future Division I players, and legendary coach Bob Hurley was never shy about letting his players know where they stood. And perhaps some of those feelings festered during Taylor’s four-year career at Kansas, where he spent three years trying to harness his potential at point guard.
But on Thursday night, when the NBA Draft begins at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. — eight miles west of Hoboken — Taylor may finally feel at home in the NBA.
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“I feel like I came so far,” said Taylor, a 6-foot-3 guard.
More than a month ago, when the draft process was just heating up, Taylor was still hesitant to guess where he might be taken. He’d heard the projections: Probably second round; maybe first if he impressed during individual workouts.
“I’m hoping to just get drafted honestly,” Taylor said. “To be in the first round, of course, is huge. But just to get drafted is going to be a blessing.”
Based on what Kansas coach Bill Self has heard, it may be a coin flip whether Taylor sneaks into the first round.
“I think he’s gonna be on the border, right there,” Self said. “Does he go first or second?”
Taylor could be helped by a weak point-guard crop — only Weber State’s Damian Lillard and North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall appear to be candidates to go in the top half of the first round. But Taylor may be most attractive to teams as a playmaking combo guard off the bench.
Taylor has reportedly worked out for close to 10 teams. The list includes Boston, Indiana, Miami, Cleveland, Memphis and Golden State — all teams that will pick in the latter third of the first round.
In Taylor’s mind, the workout process was about showing teams that he can handle point-guard duties and shoot consistently from the outside. Last season, Taylor shot 38 percent from three-point range while averaging 16.6 points and 4.8 assists.
A long-held view among some observers of the Kansas program is that Taylor’s game may be well-suited for the NBA. The theory: Taylor’s strengths — his turbo-charged speed and ability to break teams down off the dribble — will be huge weapons in a game with shorter possessions and rules (no handchecks) that seem to benefit explosive guards.
“I think I could potentially become a better NBA player than maybe I was in college,” Taylor said. “And I think that’s a lot to do with the spacing. And I also think that’s a lot to do with the team and where I get drafted, too.
It’s an argument that Self doesn’t disagree with, either. But for Taylor, it may be all about landing in the right system.
“If I get drafted, and just if the personnel is right, things like that,” Taylor said. “It plays out in a lot of ways, but I think if you look at the NBA game and some systems that are run, I think my game transitions really good to that.”
Still, to go in the first round, Taylor may have to convince some team that his offensive decision-making — he had 138 turnovers last season — won’t be an issue at the next level. Of course, Taylor says that he’s been doubted before. Last June, few would have thought that Taylor could guide a team to the NCAA title game. And then it happened.
Now Taylor will attempt to prove that he can be a capable NBA player. And on Thursday, when the draft begins just a few miles from where he grew up, Taylor may finally get his chance.
“If you ask a lot of people, I wouldn’t have been here today in this position to even be talked about as one of those 60 players that could potentially get drafted,” Taylor says. “So, to be in this situation is definitely humbling, and a blessing either way. So just to get my named called and hear my named called would be amazing.”