LINCOLN — Rings and banners.
That’s what Evan Taylor and his father, Kyle, who played on an NCAA tournament team at Xavier, wanted to talk about on their recruiting trip to Nebraska in July 2016.
Not how many points Evan might score. Or how many minutes he’s going to play. Or what honors he might get promoted for.
“We’re all about rings and banners,’’ NU coach Tim Miles remembers the Taylor men saying. “They both said, ‘We want team success.’ And Evan epitomizes that every day with his attitude and effort.’’
Taylor, now in his second season at Nebraska, has proved he meant what he said after arriving from Odessa (Texas) Junior College.
The 6-foot-5, 208-pound senior guard from Cincinnati has earned so much respect that when it was time to pick captains this season, Miles eschewed his normal policy of letting the players vote.
He chose Taylor for his selfless devotion to the team, and fellow senior Anton Gill for his toughness during rehab from multiple injuries.
That leadership has been an unheralded part of why Nebraska, 12-19 a season ago, is 18-8 overall, 9-4 in the Big Ten and part of legitimate NCAA tournament discussions heading into Saturday’s home game against Rutgers.
Taylor’s statistics don’t dazzle: 6.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game. “But when it comes to doing the dirty work of winning,’’ Miles said, “Evan is a star.’’
That goes back to two things Taylor learned from his father.
“Defense and winning,’’ he said. “If you’re not playing to win, whatcha playing for? That’s stuck with me since I was kid. So I’ll scrape and claw and do whatever I can to help us win. I’m not too big for any job.’’
For the past seven games, Taylor has scraped and clawed while coming off the bench, with Gill starting in his place.
“The hardest decision I’ve made was to take Evan out of the starting lineup,’’ Miles said. “When you’re a starter in the Big Ten, that’s meaningful, but I just didn’t love the rotations we were in.
“As hard as it was to do, I still think it was right for our bigger picture. I didn’t expect him to like it, and he didn’t. But he was mature enough to handle it.’’
Instead of pouting, Taylor has helped Nebraska go 6-1 since, with crucial contributions.
In his first game coming off the bench, Taylor scored 13 points and added five rebounds and two steals in a 64-63 victory over Illinois.
At Wisconsin, Taylor didn’t score in 23 minutes. But don’t think he didn’t affect the game. As teammate James Palmer went wild offensively during NU’s rally from an 11-point deficit to win 74-63, multiple defensive changes were necessary because of foul trouble decimating the frontcourt.
So Palmer — giving up 5 inches and 27 pounds — often guarded All-Big Ten forward Ethan Happ down the stretch. Happ scored only three points in the final 10:51. Perhaps because he was busy elbowing the pesky Taylor in the head.
Then at Minnesota on Tuesday night, Taylor scored seven points in the final 8:19 to help NU hold off the Gophers 91-85. Of particular note was a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 2:32 to play after the offense broke down.
“Just a dagger,’’ Miles said. “Evan made so many big plays down the stretch, especially with Palmer in foul trouble.’’
Taylor took a circuitous route to Nebraska.
He was born and raised in Cincinnati. He moved to Florida at age 13, then eventually played high school ball in Fairfax, Virginia. As a college freshman, he played at Samford, then transferred to Odessa JC in hopes of getting onto a bigger stage.
Coming out of Odessa, Taylor got mid-major offers in the spring but waited in hopes of a power conference opportunity.
He was working a basketball camp in early July at his old high school when Husker assistant Jim Molinari reconnected while in search of a wing after Andrew White’s late transfer to Syracuse.
“It was a difficult process,’’ Taylor said. “Part of me was sweating it. But I had been in that position before. My family was in my ear, telling me something good was going to happen.’’
This season over last for Nebraska, Taylor has improved his 3-point shooting from 24.0 percent (6 of 25) to 50.0 percent (15 of 30). Overall, he has shot 44.7 percent compared to 41.3 percent in 2016-17.
As Taylor’s college career winds down while NCAA tourney talk for Nebraska builds up, he recalls conversations through the years about his father’s NCAA experience. In 1987, Kyle Taylor started for Xavier in a 70-69 first-round win over Missouri and a 65-60 second-round loss to Duke.
“I’m jealous I haven’t got to experience something like that yet,’’ Evan Taylor said. “He told me it’s the best feeling in the world, and to do everything I can to get there because it’s something that will stick with you the rest of your life.’’
Have no doubt Taylor will do his best to get Nebraska to the tourney, Remember, it’s all about rings and banners.