Last year's Pac-10 surprise will stage another three-for-all, while applying a bit more muscle
Not long ago Oregon coach Ernie Kent admitted to 6' 4" senior guard Bryce Taylor that he wouldn't mind switching places for a day. "Coach, you would really like that," replied Taylor. "I know I really like being Bryce."
Who wouldn't? Taylor has movie-star good looks, his teammates' nod as the Ducks' best-dressed player and rich athletic bloodlines: His dad, Brian Taylor, was the ABA Rookie of the Year in 1973; his uncle Bruce Taylor was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1970; and his maternal grandfather, Art Powell, still holds the Oakland Raiders' single-game receiving record nearly four decades years after retiring.
Bryce's smooth exterior belies a gritty work ethic that has put him within a few months of earning his degree in sociology and on the brink, says Kent, of having "a monster year" on the court. "We cannot fatigue him right now, he works so hard." After spending the 2006 off-season transforming himself from a three-point specialist into a slasher and lockdown defender, Taylor often guarded the opponent's best player last year, still averaged 14.1 points and 4.6 rebounds and helped Oregon go on a surprising run to the Elite Eight. Not that he forgot how to shoot: Against USC in the Pac-10 tournament title game, he was 11 for 11 from the floor -- including seven threes -- and 3 for 3 from the line for 32 points in an 81-57 win.
Kent will need more of that confidence from Taylor after the departure of playmaker Aaron Brooks for the NBA. The Ducks will still be deadly from outside -- returning starters Taylor, Maarty Leunen, Malik Hairston and Tajuan Porter shot a combined 42.8% from beyond the arc last year -- and 6' 6" sophomore Joevan Catron brings more muscle to the lineup. But can Taylor, Hairston and Leunen, who were all members of the most heralded recruiting class to come to Eugene in 30 years, take Oregon back to the Elite Eight? "We don't try to put too many expectations on ourselves," says Taylor. "I just want to make sure we go out on a good note and that our names are remembered after we leave here." -- Kelli Anderson
Issue date: November 19, 2007