Created on Friday, 02 November 2012 03:49 Written by Brian Batko / Senior Staff Writer
When Dante Taylor left the Petersen Events Center Wednesday night, he looked forward to going home and watching some NBA action to relax and unwind from practice.
Just a few years ago, when Taylor entered the Pitt basketball program as a McDonald’s All-American and a consensus top-15 recruit in the class of 2009, it would not have been outrageous to think the senior big man might be playing in one of those NBA games instead.
But Taylor’s collegiate career up to this point has been underwhelming. In three years, he has averaged 5.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He’s no longer found in online mock drafts or rankings of top college basketball prospects.
Going into his final season with the Panthers, though, none of that matters to him.
“I never pay attention to the criticism or internet or things like that,” the Greenburgh, N.Y., native said. “I never even read nothing about no expectations. It was always, I’d be in an interview with somebody and they’d say, ‘Well, what do you think about [the expectations],’ and I’d just be like, ‘I don’t know,’ because I’m not into stuff like that. I don’t care.”
“The No. 1 person I care about is my coach,” Taylor added. “If he don’t say nothing negative, then I must be doing something right.”
Taylor can rest easy, as Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon had nothing but glowing praise for him on the heels of his nine-point, 10-rebound effort in the team’s first exhibition game against Indiana (Pa.) last Friday.
“I thought he played really well the whole game. I told the guys afterwards he was probably the best player on the floor,” Dixon said.
Trey Zeigler, a junior guard who has known Taylor for the past six months since he transferred to Pitt from Central Michigan, echoes his coach’s sentiments about his veteran teammate.
“He’s been a leader, really. Being a senior, he’s bringing that energy,” Zeigler said. “The biggest thing is he doesn’t care whether he starts or not. He knows he’s going to play, and he’s going to take advantage of his minutes, and I think he showed that in the exhibition game. He’s going to take advantage of whatever coach wants him to do.”
As a freshman, many Panthers fans hoped the highly touted Taylor would beat out then-returning junior center Gary McGhee for a spot in the starting lineup. He didn’t. McGhee started the next two seasons with Taylor as his primary backup.
Last season, as a junior, Taylor finally became a starter. But he didn’t have the breakout campaign Pitt followers hoped for, and the team missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years.
Now, as a senior and an unquestioned team leader, he’ll likely be relegated back to reserve status to make way for ballyhooed freshman Steven Adams — a role that the 22-year-old Taylor is perfectly fine with.
“I’ve never been the type of person to be caring about if I start or anything like that,” Taylor said. “I just know when I get in the game, I just got to do what I got to do, and that’s all that matters.”
Three weeks ago at the team’s media day, Dixon said Taylor is as healthy as he’s ever been to start the season. Taylor has battled knee soreness and back pain throughout his time at Pitt, but even with the nagging injuries, he never redshirted and has never missed an extended chunk of action. A contributor from the very beginning, the former five-star high school player has trouble believing how quickly his career has flown by.
“It definitely went by fast,” Taylor said. “Just three years ago, I was a freshman coming in not knowing what was going on and just happy to be where I’m at, and happy I had the opportunity to be here and make something of the opportunity.”
When he speaks of making the most of his chance to play basketball at Pitt, he doesn’t mean showing off for scouts or having articles written about him. What he means is excelling in the classroom and making sure he leaves the University with a diploma.
“It’s something I definitely take a lot of pride in. I don’t want to waste the opportunity, as far as being here. I’ve definitely come a long way, as far as academics,” said Taylor, a social sciences major. “In high school, my first probably two years, I didn’t have the best grades. But I just kept working hard at it, and it started getting better and better, and each year I just tried to progress. So when I got here, I knew that was something I was gonna need to stay on the court and to make my mom proud by getting my degree.”
You could say Taylor, who even mentioned perhaps returning to Pitt at some point to pursue a master’s degree, is a simple man. He enjoys watching the television series “Martin,” playing “Call of Duty” video games and riding dirt bikes.
He doesn’t follow whether or not the Panthers are recruiting other centers or forwards to compete with him. He never even thought about basketball as a ticket to a better life until high school and doesn’t have much patience for reading what those outside the locker room have to say on Twitter.
Soon, he and his roommate, fellow senior Tray Woodall, will be graduating and will leave behind teammates such as Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, redshirt juniors who came into the program with Taylor, but sat out their first seasons.
“The guys like Talib and Lamar who came in with me, I’m gonna miss them guys when I leave,” Taylor said. “But it’s definitely been a good four years, and I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished.”
Yes, Dante Taylor seems at peace with what he has — and hasn’t — done on the hardwood with the Pitt men’s basketball team. But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied just yet.
“I’m just looking forward to this season, you know, my last, final season, and going out with a good one.”