Harris: Pitt's Taylor Hopes to Justify Hype
Harris, John, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Through no fault of his own, Pitt's junior center Dante Taylor is a product of exceedingly high expectations who was beset by knee problems that appear to be finally behind him.
If that sounds like the 6-foot-9, 236-pound Taylor -- a McDonald's All-American and one of the most decorated recruits in school history -- is on the verge on a breakout season, so be it.
But enough with the Taylor-is-overrated hype that made his first two college seasons a no-win proposition.
"Dante is coming into his own," Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon pronounced last week as the Panthers officially opened practice. "Health was a big issue last year. He missed a game or two. He missed practice because of knee issues. I think we know that it's never going to be enough. A guy that has that tag is never going to be enough to some."
Taylor played decently in his first two college seasons. He wasn't an impact player, but he was by no means a bust. He averaged 4.1 points and 3.7 rebounds as a freshman, 5.1 points and 4.5 rebounds during his sophomore year.
Taylor's problem is that he's been more cheeseburger than steak. He isn't Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins, fellow big men on the same McDonald's All-American team who were top-five selections in the 2010 NBA Draft. He's a developing big man who's best days are ahead of him.
If you want to blame Taylor for anything, blame him for not being an NBA lottery pick after only one college season. If that sounds ridiculous, that's because it is.
"I don't feel pressure because I know I didn't create all of that -- the media did," said Taylor, who's expected to start at center after serving a two-year apprenticeship behind Gary McGhee. "I know the things I can do and how I contribute to the team. Coach knows and my teammates know, and that's all I'm worried about."
After being bothered by tendinitis in his knees during the second half of last season, a new-look Taylor dropped 15 pounds during the summer. The reduced weight has increased his mobility and stamina, while lifting his confidence.
"You're going to see a more explosive me," Taylor promised. "I'm in better shape. My knees are good. Last year toward the end of the season, my knees were hurting. It hindered me from doing a lot of stuff on the court.
"I got a lot better with my back to the basket over the summer. You're going to see a lot of post-up, a lot of face-up stuff. Shoot a mid-range jump shot on the baseline. Coach wants me to start doing that more.''
Of the 22 players who played in the 2009 McDonald's All-American Game, five were on NBA rosters last season -- Cousins, who started for Sacramento as a rookie; Favors, who was traded from New Jersey to Utah in his first pro season; shooting guard Xavier Henry, the No. …