NORTH LIBERTY If the Hawkeyes hope to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight season, one huge key will be the right knee of junior Theairra Taylor.
“I don’t want to have any limits,” Taylor said Wednesday night after leading her Game Time League team to victory. “I want to be full time, whatever they need.”
Taylor came to Iowa as a Top 100 recruit out of St. Paul (Minn.) Central. She worked into the starting lineup after two games. She had 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks in her first career start, a glimpse of that all-around talent she could provide.
Then, 10 games into her freshman season, she suffered an ACL injury. It was her second. The third, on the same knee, came during practice in the lead-up to her sophomore season.
Last season, Taylor played in 31 games on a limited basis as she worked back slowly from that third ACL surgery. She played a season-high 26 minutes and scored a season-high 14 points against California in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s what I plan on doing,” Taylor said. “I plan on working extremely hard.”
Taylor might be an all-Big Ten talent, but she is also one misstep from ending her career.
“It’s a pregame anxiety,” Taylor said of her knee. “Once the game gets going, it’s gone. I forget what happens.
“If I can get my mind right and get the anxiety out of my head, I’ll be fine.”
Taylor also has become an expert on her knee. She had a cyst removed this spring and knows exactly how much she can push it from day to day.
“It feels good,” Taylor said. “I know when to step out of a drill; I know when it’s hurting me.
“It is still sore from time to time. Nothing an Advil can’t cure.”
Taylor is ready and willing to play more minutes. The process of getting back into game shape takes longer when you have to pamper a nervous knee.
“It’s a process,” Taylor said.
Senior center Morgan Johnson has seen Taylor putting in the time.
“Theairra is going to be a big contributor,” Johnson said. “I see her in the gym every single day. She’s got a nice little pull up now, her three’s a lot stronger now than it has been.
“She’s a great new threat for our team this year. She’s going to play a lot of minutes.”
The aforementioned 3-pointer was on display Wednesday night. Taylor showed the quick catch-and-shoot that Iowa guards have become known for.
“I know how teams will play me when I get back out there; they’ll play me for the drive,” Taylor said. “So I have to be prepared and work on my three this offseason so they can’t do that.”
The drive still was there. Even with a bulky knee brace on, Taylor only needed one step to start rolling to the hoop on a baseline drive.
She also handed out a couple assists, including a no-look pass to the arc Sam Logic-style.
“I’m so excited, I can’t wait for the season to start,” Taylor said.
She also took off her knee brace for the first time in three years in a scrimmage a few days ago. Not wearing the brace gives Taylor an entire new level of freedom.
“I love it,” Taylor said. “It can be a constant reminder when you’re out there running, pulling it up.”
Taylor isn’t the same player who exploded on the scene as a freshman. Two ACL surgeries later, she may be a fraction slower but a lot wiser.
“She’s going to be vital to our success this year,” Johnson said. “I feel like her health is vital to us.”
Taylor wants to believe in that idea, too.
“I want to get the full chance to start the preseason,” Taylor said. “That’s the role you want, being the best you can possibly be.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball