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NEW ORLEANS - Dad knew his son wouldn't cave to the pressure.
Louis Taylor, the father of Wisconsin basketball star Jordan Taylor, watched his son miss shot after shot in Saturday's NCAA tournament game against Kansas State. But the junior point guard didn't hang his head, which proved to be the main reason the Badgers advanced to Thursday's Southeast Regional matchup with Butler.
Taylor was 2-for-16 from the field but made crucial free throws and blocked Jacob Pullen's game-tying three-point attempt in the final seconds of Wisconsin's 70-65 victory.
"He's not afraid to pull the trigger," said Louis Taylor, a financial adviser with UBS in Bloomington.
Clearly not. Minnesota's 2008 Mr. Basketball as a Benilde-St. Margaret's senior has a bravado that separates the players who say they want the ball in clutch situations from those who demand it.
Taylor is the clear floor leader of a Wisconsin team that includes fellow Minnesotans Jon Leuer, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren. But he didn't always play with the confidence he has shown in leading the Badgers to their fifth Sweet 16 appearance since 2000.
"Jordan's biggest issue was that he was afraid that if he screwed up, he'd get taken out," Louis Taylor said, recalling his son's first season at Wisconsin. "After a while, he was afraid to shoot and he was afraid to dribble and do anything but pass the ball. ... I can go through a lot of episodes where that confidence waned and he had to bring it back."
Taylor made just 19 percent of his three-point attempts as a Wisconsin freshman. The poise that he shown on his AAU and preps teams in Minnesota disappeared.
After he scored two points on a 1-for-7 shooting effort in a victory over Arizona last season, he called his father to seek answers for his growing insecurity. Louis Taylor's advice: Don't be afraid to fail.
His son scored 19 points for Wisconsin a day later.
Leuer missed a chunk of the Big Ten season because of a broken wrist last year, so Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan switched to a smaller starting lineup that included Taylor. His minutes jumped from 13.2 per game his freshman season to 29.5 last season. Ryan said Leuer's injury granted Taylor an opportunity to gain the experience -- and confidence -- he needed.
"Nothing discourages him when it comes to that next practice, that next performance," Ryan said. "He's as upbeat as any young man I've been around, and there's no question he's a leader on the floor."
Taylor is averaging 18.0 points per game, and his 4.2 assist-to-turnover ratio leads the nation. And unlike his challenging freshman year, he's made 44 percent of his three-point attempts this season.
"You start out, you come in and try and just learn the ropes, which I think a lot of freshmen are doing across the country," Taylor said. "I mean, obviously some are going to be one-and-dones or whatever, but we just try to learn the ropes at Wisconsin and try to find yourself more and more throughout the year, and as you go on in your career."
Leuer, a former Orono star, credited Taylor's junior's work ethic to his emergence this season.
"That has ultimately led to his confidence just going through the roof," Leuer said.
Getting the point
Taylor and Armond Battle, a Division I recruit who originally signed with Tulsa, led Benilde-St. Margaret's to the state Class 3A title in 2008. By the time his prep career ended, Taylor had changed the way that longtime Benilde-St. Margaret's coach John Moore operated.
"I was a type-A, controlling-type coach," Moore said. "With him and his talent, I had to learn to let go."
Moore didn't add Taylor to his varsity team initially in his freshman season.
He said he knew Taylor was good enough, but he wanted him to "go through the process" of beating out the best players in the upper grades before elevating him. Taylor was undaunted.
"You have to earn everything you get, and it just kind of taught me another lesson in the value of hard work," he said.
Within weeks, Taylor was playing varsity.
"It was more of 'I'll show you,'" Moore said. "I've never seen him back down from anything."
Much of who Jordan Taylor is on the court can be traced to lessons learned from his father, which is surprising since Louis Taylor admits he didn't know much about basketball when Jordan was a youngster. Louis Taylor was a baseball player in his youth, but nonetheless became a youth basketball coach -- with the assistance of how-to books.
On the elementary school team, Taylor was allowed to score the first two baskets of every quarter. For the rest of the period, however, his father required him to pass and not shoot.
"I believe to this day that was the foundation that really helped Jordan think about the responsibilities of a point guard," Louis Taylor said.
It's helped make Jordan Taylor the sort of point guard and floor leader that opposing coaches fear at tournament time.
"I think Jordan Taylor's presence on this particular team makes them ... a national title contender," said Butler coach Brad Stevens. "If you don't respect him off a ball screen, you're dead."
Louis Taylor is not surprised. Just as he wasn't surprised by his son's heroics down the stretch against Kansas State.
"I would say that he now is at the point where he's an adult now and so he knows who he is and he knows those experiences," Louis Taylor said. "He is not afraid to take the shot. But it was a process."
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