COLUMBIA — Missouri's most experienced newcomer is getting plenty of time to prove himself as the team's starting point guard.
Junior Zaire Taylor, who played two years at Delaware and is actually older than senior Leo Lyons, wasn't flashy bringing the ball up the court or finishing with the basketball. He has only scored four points in two games, and three of those came on a 3-pointer late in a blowout against Chattanooga at Mizzou Arena. But there's a reason coach Mike Anderson has let Taylor play more minutes than anyone else in each of the first two games.
"I really just try to grade myself on efficiency more than anything," Taylor said. "I wish I could shoot the ball a little better right now, because I'm in a slump, but as far as taking care of the ball and keeping the assists and turnovers over 2-to-1 and steal turnover 1-to-1, I'd say I'm doing pretty well."
After getting three assists and two steals in a turnover-free game against Prairie View A&M on Saturday, Taylor did even more Monday night. Despite shooting 1-of-6 from the field, he had six assists to go along with a steal and once again did not commit a turnover. The 6-foot-4 guard even added a block and six rebounds against the Mocs.
Taylor seemed to be setting an example for the rest of the team, especially early, when he forced a 10-second violation with some intense man-to-man defense. In the second half, Chattanooga's guards showed signs of wearing down from the constant struggle of bringing the ball up the court.
"I thought our guys brought a lot of energy to the game, even at the start," Anderson said. "It was all about our defense. We mixed and matched our defense, and just kind of kept them off-kilter."
His role on the team may be different, but Taylor said he looks to seniors Lyons and DeMarre Carroll for guidance on the basketball court. The two Preseason Big 12 Conference Honorable Mentions have done their part so far, with a combined 43 points per game.
"They're definitely leaders and role models," Taylor said. "They help guide me, the little things I do wrong. They can tell me to be more aggressive sometimes."
Point guard was one of the biggest question marks for the Tigers coming into the season, and so far Taylor has been a sufficient answer. Freshman Miguel Paul has also played significant minutes at the helm, but he doesn't seem quite as comfortable yet.
Taylor figures to shoulder more of the load for the offense in Puerto Rico, where the Tigers will see some teams with players who match up better with Lyons and Carroll inside. With teams like Xavier, Missouri's next opponent, he will probably see more defensive pressure than he has seen so far this season.
"I think this is good preparation for March in a sense, because it's games back-to-back and it's a tournament atmosphere," Taylor said. "We're going there to win the championship."
Not long before Taylor stepped on the floor Monday night, a senior from his former prep school signed a Letter of Intent to play for the Tigers next season.
Keith Dewitt, a 6-foot-10 forward from Charis Prep will be asked to fill the hole created by the impending departure of Carroll and Lyons. He averaged 16.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game last season.
"Keith gives us a guy of size and great athletic ability," Anderson said. "He's an instinctive, skilled forward and he plays the game with a lot of passion and energy."