Steve Taylor, Jr. sat in a chair set out for media in the Al McGuire Center following the introduction of his new head coach at Marquette University on April 1.
Steve Wojciechowski had completed his press conference, and his roster of new players remained to answer questions not only about what they expected from a new coach, but how they felt about the one who departed.
Taylor, who had just completed his sophomore season, didn’t hold back.
He had issues with Buzz Williams, both with communication and his playing time. He said he likely would’ve looked for another university should Williams have returned.
Taylor was aware of Wojciechowski’s reputation – both as a coach and recruiter in Chicago – and was willing to give the new coach a chance to win him over.
He did, quickly, and Taylor enters his junior year healthy and with a renewed sense of purposed.
"I feel like everything’s going good, the way we pictured it," Taylor said. "As for ‘Wojo,’ he’s a great coach. He has a good feel for what he wants, and he knows what he wants, and we’re either going to do it his way or no way.
"What I like about him most is he genuinely cares about the players. We do player evaluations and he meets with us and he wants to see what we think about things. That’s good to players. We’re not used to that. When he does things like that it makes us appreciate it and be thankful."
As for communication, Taylor feels that is now part of his role on the team. As one of only three upperclassmen who have started their career at Marquette, he sees himself as a player the six underclassmen will listen to.
"I see myself this season being a more vocal guy," he said. "I gotta talk more because I’m used to being in the back seat and listening to commands. Now I’ve got to step up and give them at times."
One of Williams’ more highly-regarded recruits three years ago, Taylor played a key role in two state championships in Illinois while playing for Simeon Career Academy in Chicago and was considered a top 25 forward by several recruiting outlets when he graduated. He was also the state of Illinois’ top-rated player in the Class of 2012.
In his junior and senior seasons at Simeon, Taylor played with five other Division I athletes, including Milwaukee Bucks rookie and No.2 overall draft pick Jabari Parker.
Taylor walked into a Marquette program that was coming off a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament and in his freshman year the Golden Eagles tied for the regular season Big East crown while pushing all the way to the Elite Eight. Last year, however, was lost for Taylor.
A knee injury, and his subsequent recovery, set him back in the offseason. And then communication issues arose with Williams over how healthy he truly was as Marquette – the preseason Big East favorites – struggled to a 17-15 overall mark, a 9-9 finish in the conference and a seat on the couch when the tournament started.
Now, the 6-foot, 7-inch, 240-pound Taylor will be counted on to provide the only "big" presence in the post defensively, until 6-11 Luke Fischer is eligible to play on Dec. 14. In that time before Fischer can play, non-conference opponents include No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 20 Ohio State and Georgia Tech, and all have players taller, or heavier, than Taylor.
"I have to get better at defending the post and guys bigger than me," he said. "It’s really a plus for me because the five men have to guard me, so it’ll be a mismatch in positions. But I feel I’m ready for the challenge and ready to surprise some people."
"He’s excited by the opportunity," Wojciechowski added. "Obviously the last year was not an easy one for him. I think he’s said it. But one of the things that I’ve tried to do with all our guys is just a fresh start, so what you’ve done in the past … it’s overall about moving forward. I think Steve’s been excited by that."
Part of that excitement is born out of the fact that offensively, Taylor feels he’s been unleashed by the new coaching staff.
"The coaches let me shoot – they can see I can shoot it – so they’ll let me shoot," he said. "I can work in the short post, in the short corner – wherever you need me. Wherever you need me, I’m there. If you need me to play with my back to the rim, I can do it."
Golden Eagles guard Duane Wilson said Taylor can be especially effective off pick and roll.
"Steve impressed me the most (this summer)," Wilson said. "Steve can pick and pop and step out and shoot the three. A lot of people didn’t know Steve really can shoot, but Steve really took that in last year, like ‘I’m going to be able to shoot this year.’ His face-up game, like 15 feet in, is probably one of the best in the country in catching the ball and facing up."
Wilson followed that up with a final thought.
"I think he can be one of the best bigs in the Big East."
It’s a belief Taylor has in himself, too.
"I feel like I’ve arrived," he said. "I feel like this is how I should’ve felt my freshman year. An opportunity has presented itself, and I’m ready."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.