The transfer trail has been good to the Xavier Musketeers over the years, repeatedly bringing in players who ended up being vital cogs in the Muskie machine. It has brought in guards and forwards, JuCo transfers and players who have become disillusioned with their lot at the highest levels of the college game, stars and role players, and a little bit of everything in between. The most recent player to walk that path was forward Travis Taylor.
8.0/6.7/0.7 on .513/.000/.597 shooting
Hopes were high for Travis Taylor when he came to Xavier from Monmouth. When his transfer was announced, Muskies fans began skittering around the internet for information on the willow forward who would be spending his redshirt year practicing with the team. Early returns were positive: he went for 17.8 and 7.6 as a sophomore at Monmouth and posted respectable shooting numbers. His height wasn't going to be a liability, and he was rumored to be very athletic. It seemed that Jamel McLean's replacement had been found and secured.
Reports and rumors out of practice during his year off seemed to confirm things. He was said to have a high motor and be an athletic and creative finisher around the rim. He challenged the guys who were eligible every day in practice, and some days was the best player on the court for the Musketeers. There was no doubt that Xavier had landed another great transfer.
He took a minute to find his feet for Xavier, putting up 2/4/2 on 0-3/0-0/2-4 shooting in his debut against Morgan State, but when he combined for 21/19/0 on 8-15/0-0/5-6 shooting in wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt, it seemed like he was going to pick up right where he left off at Monmouth. Inconsistency, however, plagued Taylor for much of his junior season. He followed up 9 and 8 against Butler with 1 and 2 in a less closely contested game against Cinci. With most of the regular starting lineup out against Oral Roberts, he needed 13 shots to get his 11 points, though he did also add 9 boards.
By the time the conference season came around, Taylor looked like a shadow of what Xavier fans were told he was going to be. Coach Mack spoke highly of his effort on both ends of the floor and seemed to still have confidence in him, but nobody actually suiting up for the team - Taylor included - seemed to share that faith. After averaging 7.7 points from the Georgia game through the end of the non-conference season, he averaged just 3.6 against Atlantic Ten opponents.
When the chips were down in the NCAA tournament, Taylor went for 0/1/0 with a foul on 0-2/0-0/0-0 shooting in just 11 minutes. That's not his averages or his performance in one of the games; that is his total line for the three NCAA tournament games that Xavier played. When the program burned to the ground over the summer, it was that Travis Taylor - who had averaged 1.5 and 1.9 in his final ten games - who was the leading returning rebounder and scorer. Xavier fans were, to say the least, not enthused.
It was all the more surprising, then, when Taylor opened the season by going for 20 and 12 against Fairleigh Dickinson. As if to demonstrate that his performance had been more about himself than the competition, he put up 15 and 9 in Xavier's early-season win over Butler. Flashes of his old inconsistency remained - 3 and 1 against drake, shooting 2-11 against Purdue - but he now had the luxury of being able to play himself through bad stretches. With the staff almost forced to leave him out there, Taylor's numbers and confidence grew apace one another.
He also followed in Jamel McLean's footsteps by being the only guy to show up in a disheartening loss to UC. While his teammates were being hounded and hobbled all over the floor, Taylor went for a business-like 12 and 10 in the lost cause. In fact, during the four-game losing streak that wrapped up the nonconference schedule, Trav averaged 15.5 and 9.5, the very picture of consistency.
While Taylor was Xavier's most consistent offensive threat throughout the season, it was often his teammates' inability or unwillingness to feed him the ball that kept his numbers from being even more impressive. In a two-point win against St. Bonaventure, he shot the ball six times and scored 11 points. He was memorably great at Richmond on February 2nd, going for 24 and 8 on 9-11/0-0/6-10 shooting and repeatedly demonstrating that the Spiders couldn't stop him. Despite that, he had only two shot attempts in the second half. He made them both.
Down the stretch, Taylor turned in some of the finest performances by a Xavier forward in recent memory. In a must-win game at URI, he put his stamp on a scrappy affair with 13 and 17. With Xavier's at-large hopes likely flat-lined at that point, he still threw up 18 and 10 against #19 Memphis in a two-point win at the Cintas Center. He saved his best performance for last, though, when Xavier hosted #16 Saint Louis for Senior Night in what was to be his final collegiate home game. In an overtime battle against a team most thought was going to roll the Muskies, Taylor played 43 minutes and put up a game line of 19/19/1 with 6 blocks on 6-11/0-0/7-9 shooting. With the team's hopes for a meaningful postseason on life support and a massively favored opponent ready to stomp the Muskies' proverbial cake on Senior Night, Takeoff Trav put on his hero shoes and helped his team to one more victory.
A couple of things will always resonate with me when I look back on Taylor's time at Xavier. The first was how well he could rebound on both ends for such a slight player. His DReb% of 24.2% and OReb% of 9.7% tell the impressive story with clinical precision, but I'll more remember how many times Joe Sunderman told me that Taylor soared above the crowd or extended one of his almost implausibly powerful hands to rip down and secure a board for the Muskies. By the time the season was nearing its end, he was the security blanket I depended on to kill possessions for the Xavier defense.
The other will be his on-court demeanor. After the brash intensity of the Holloway/Lyons Era, Taylor's stone-cold focus on the floor was a gift to those in the school's administration seeking to distance themselves from some of the bad publicity still dogging the program. When Taylor collected a technical foul early in the season, Coach Mack was more befuddled than anything, explaining post-game that Trav has earned the reputation as a player who just goes about his business without really telling you about it.
I'll leave you with one little anecdote that sums up Trav in my memory. In that February matchup at URI, Rams forward Jordan Hare was tasked with guarding Taylor. Hare was one of the best shot blockers in the nation this season, turning away 10.5% of opponents' two-point attempts when he was on the floor, good for 24th in the nation. Early in the second half, with the game tied at 30 and Xavier desperately needing a win, Taylor was isolated against Hare on the right block. After taking just a moment to assess the situation, he whirled to the baseline with almost comical quickness before rising over the freshman's challenge to throw down a savage two-handed dunk on his head. As the collective gasps of the Rhode Island crowd sucked the air from the gym, Taylor simply released the rim and jogged back down the court with a nonchalance that made you wonder if the stunning display of athleticism you thought you had just witnessed actually happened. Taylor may not have called attention to what he had just done, but he rarely did; when Trav needed to provide flash, he did it with his play.