COLUMBIA — During pregame warmups guard Zaire Taylor looks as relaxed as someone in a La-Z-Boy chair.
While the rest of the Missouri men’s basketball team is focused on getting ready for that night’s game, Taylor keeps things loose. He races teammates for rebounds and often hoists up shots near halfcourt. When Missouri mascot Truman the Tiger stood in his path during layup drills before a game against Texas A&M, Taylor playfully laughed and did spin moves around the Tiger.
Iowa State (13-10, 2-6 Big 12) vs. Missouri (17-6, 5-3 Big 12)
WHEN: 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
TV: Fox Sports Midwest
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
SERIES: Tigers lead 143-84. MU won last meeting 82-68 on Feb. 7, 2009
EASY BASKETS: For once, the Tigers didn’t rely on 3-pointers in their Saturday win at Colorado. Continuing to get to the rim, either off fast breaks or through a motion offense, can only help Missouri.
ABOUT IOWA STATE
COACH: Greg McDermott
LAST SEASON: 15-17 (4-12 Big 12)
THE SKINNY: Iowa State returned a few standout players, including All-Big 12 first-teamer Craig Brackins. But a lack of consistency, particularly on defense, has haunted the Cyclones. They’re no pushover, though, and in games at Baylor and Oklahoma they pushed their hosts to the limit.
CRAIG BRACKINS: The 6-foot-10 forward is the undeniable leader for ISU. He averages 17 points a game and can take over any game, like the 29 points he had against No. 9 K-State. Mainly known for his post play, he has developed a 3-point shot.
“He’s always like that (relaxed),” assistant coach T.J. Cleveland said. “He’s one of those guys who relaxes all the time. He’s already graduated so he’s had a lot of time to relax already.”
Taylor, whose nickname is Easy, looks nothing like someone trying to get ready for a conference matchup. However, once the game begins, that relaxed approach helps to calm down a team that relies on hectic traps and constant fast breaks. Taylor knows how to slow things up when they get out of control and how to calm the team down to eliminate turnovers. He is the yin to the energetic J.T. Tiller’s yang.
“He is what we call the calming factor on both offense and defense,” Cleveland said. “You got J.T. who is the high-energy and motor and Zaire is the other motor.”
Taylor is always in a relaxed state. Cleveland said he sleeps almost as much as a bear in hibernation, and usually his eyes appear half open like someone just waking up. Guard Marcus Denmon said that calmness is important in basketball.
“I know that you want to try to be loose and comfortable on the court,” Denmon said. “You really can’t play the game if you are so uptight. It’s natural, you just got to go out there and let it flow.”
Taylor uses his relaxed approach to help run one of the most efficient offenses in the Big 12. It allows his basketball instincts to take over to make plays that seem near impossible. Like an improbable no-look pass he made while falling between two defenders. He makes no-look passes seem effortless. Cleveland said he always seems to know where guys will be open and can anticipate passes on defense.
“Sometimes with basketball players there’s some things you can’t teach and the instincts he has on offense and defense, you can’t teach those,” Cleveland said. “So that’s what makes him so effective.”
The point guard position is often considered the equivalent of being a quarterback on the basketball court because of its leadership role, and Taylor takes that to heart. When Missouri was making its comeback in the final minutes against Kansas State, Taylor was the one who calmed the players down in the huddle. He then proceeded to make the go-ahead 3-pointer that won the game. His calm presence makes him a natural leader on the court.
“Just being that guy when you need to have poise and composure out there,” Denmon said of Taylor. “And defensively he can be the guy out there when you need a stop to get the stop.”
The only thing that gets the easy-going Taylor riled up is when he makes a turnover. This season he is averaging a miniscule 1.2 turnovers a game, but he said it would be lower if it weren’t for his increased role in the offense.
“I think last year it was a little easier because my job was to get scorers the ball and get out of the way,” Taylor said. “I pretty much had to come down and not make mistakes.”
However, much like Taylor, Cleveland seemed to have no worry at all about Taylor’s ability to score.
“He figures it out,” Cleveland said. “Coach wants him to be more aggressive on offense and he can, but he scores when he needs to score, and gives people the ball on time when they need to get the ball.”