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The Waiting Was the Hardest Part

He was recruited with Purdue’s four great seniors, but Jacquil Taylor has had everything go against him until now.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Purdue Boilermakers vs Butler Bulldogs Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When Purdue’s current senior class of Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, and Isaac Haas came to Purdue in the fall of 2014 they were part of a transformational class. America has come to know them as a foursome that has now won a Big Ten championship, reached a pair of Sweet 16s, won 103 games, and delivered the first 30-win season in Purdue history.

They have a forgotten member, however.

On senior night when these four spoke they were quick to mention the fifth member of their class that has not received nearly the same amount of acclaim. Jacquil Taylor came to Purdue with them and there were rumblings he might be the most talented of all. He broke his foot as a junior in high school and that scared off many programs, but some said he could have been a 5-star and a McDonald’s All-American if he had not missed the summer recruiting period. He was still a solid 3-star recruit and one that showed a lot of promise as a diamond int he rough. We first learned of him when he committed on September 30, 2013:

ESPN Insider reports Taylor’s weaknesses as “Taylor needs to turn potential into production on a more consistent basis. He needs to become more comfortable playing against contact inside the paint, develop a go to move with his back to the basket, and continue to improve his overall ball skills. Most importantly, he needs to become more assertive on both ends of the floor.”

Unfortunately, that injury as a junior year in high school limited him from day 1. In his very first game at Purdue against Samford as a true freshman he played 13 minutes, scored 7 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, and blocked two shots. It was an impressive debut, and the next week he had 5 points in 12 minutes, including a three-pointer that showed he could step out and be a danger on the perimeter.

The problems started after that. Once Purdue was done with the Samfords and Grambling States on the schedule Jacquil saw his minutes get limited. He played five minutes and scored a point against Arkansas State on December 10th, but that was his last action as a true freshman. The decision was made to shut things down and apply for a medical redshirt due to his previous injury. Since he played in only 6 games that was a possibility.

While it may have been a smart decision, injuries and depth ahead of him limited things going forward. In 2015-16, now a redshirt freshman, he had Caleb Swanigan, Haas, and A.J. Hammons ahead of him. You may have heard those three guys are pretty good at basketball. He got some action in blowouts, but ultimately only played in 13 games and passed the 10 minutes played mark twice. We got a glimpse of what he could do in the unmerciful blowout at Rutgers. In just 14 minutes he hit 4 of 6 shots from the field (two of them threes), scored 12 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked a shot, and had an assist. Yes, it was against an absolutely atrocious Rutgers team, but Hammons was graduating that year and we didn’t know if Biggie would be back. 2016-17 could be his year to step forward.

Disaster struck again. He injured his shin and needed ankle surgery early in 2016-17. He did not play a second. It was the second time he lost a season due to injury, and this was one where he was supposed to take a big step forward with Hammons gone. Originally it was a few weeks, then months. In February he was officially shut down for the season.

Over the summer, with Swanigan off to the NBA, there was another chance. We knew he could get a potential 6th year and still have three seasons left including this one. At the World University Games he was sold with more than 5 points per game, 65% shooting from the field. 49 rebounds in 8 games (second most on the team) 9 assists, and 4 blocks. Finally, it was going to be his turn.

Then it happened yet again. A crack in his ankle in October had him laid up until at least November. This setback put him behind Matt Haarms and even the very short-lived career of Eden Ewing. Grady Eifert also emerged to take his minutes. After all, Eifert was healthy. Taylor’s body was betraying him.

Before the NCAA Tournament Jacquil had only played 88 minutes in 16 of the 34 pre-Tournament games. He only played 102 total minutes in his first three seasons before this year. He had played 4 minutes total since January 20th at Iowa, and that was in the 24-point home blowout of Minnesota. That was a single appearance in 13 games. He got five minutes and hit a basket against Cal State Fullerton, but that was another blowout and when the final horn sounded we thought Isaac Haas was going to be fine.

Haas was not fine.

It’s cruelly ironic that it took another player’s injury for Jacquil to finally get his turn again, but with Haas down coach Painter turned to him. Most people wondered if he would play to still be anchored to the bench. If he did play, what would he contribute after sitting for so long? If he couldn’t get minutes earlier in the season what could he do in the spotlight of the NCAA Tournament?

Today, his patience was rewarded.

We needed Jacquil today. If he could give us just 5-8 minutes of solid basketball it would be a valuable contribution. Haarms could get some rest. He could absorb contact and keep the offense moving. He didn’t need to do much. All we needed was for it to not be 5 on 4 while he was out there. He did that and more.

His final stat line today was modest. He was 1 of 2 from the floor for two points and he grabbed a single rebound, but he did a lot of the Little Things that don’t show up in the box score. At least three times Kelan Martin, Butler’s best player, tried to take him on one-on-one. Three times he stopped him, even forcing a shot clock violation once. In the key 16 to 12 stretch of the second half with Haarms tiring and Vince in foul trouble we needed him. He forced a turnover, played solid defense, drew a foul on a rebound, and scored on an assist from Dakota. He almost had a second basket as he got out on the break and Vince tried to find him for a dunk, but the pass was tipped away. He was running the floor and playing with great energy.

In the end it was just 7 minutes, 2 points, and a rebound. It was more though. We had to trust him and you could tell Jacquil jumped at the opportunity. His energy showed he was ready to play and he was crashing to the basket to be an offensive threat. That’s what we need. We need him to run, rebound, and defend. We need him to at least be a threat to score. That promise is coming through. We can see even more next week, as he is 5 of 14 from three in his career and I guarantee the only people that know that are the coaching staff and readers of this blog.

It is unlikely we’ll see Haas again. It is fitting though that the forgotten member of this recruiting class can come in and help salvage the situation. I liked what I saw today and with more than a single practice to get back into things I think we’ll see more next week. This guy was recruited for a reason. He still could play for two more seasons and have a major role next season.

It’s wonderful that he is finally getting a chance to show his stuff on the brightest stage, and I am definitely cheering for him this week.

Enjoy it, Jacquil. Your patience has paid off.