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Pitt's Taylor perseveres in twilight of career

| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 10:32 p.m.
Pitt forward Dante Taylor plays against Oakland at Petersen Events Center Nov. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Dante Taylor insists he has always tuned out the critics, the doubters, the naysayers. Asked about drawing considerable heat from the outside during his Pitt basketball career, he said, “I can't say that it's unfair because I've never paid attention to it.”

Among those to whom Taylor apparently does pay attention are his instructors. The senior will graduate in four years, a source of great pride, he said, to himself and his family. He also listens to folks whose opinions he respects, notably his coach, who might be might be Taylor's biggest fan.

“I can't speak to other people's expectations, but he's been a quality player for us, a quality kid,” Jamie Dixon said. “He's done great things for us. I'm very happy with what he's done for us.”

Some, including a healthy contingent of Pitt fans, likely would disagree. Ever since his much-hyped arrival in 2009 as one of the program's most prized recruits ever, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Taylor has been a topic of discussion and an object of derision.

He has teased with flashes of talent and taunted with inconsistency. Improvement has been steady but his numbers — 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds a game last season — seem to fall shy of the (inflated?) billing.

“I'm happy where I'm at,” he said, “but never satisfied.”

Like many coaches, Dixon sees the good beyond statistics.

“He's a very good rebounder, he runs the floor well, he's a very good team defender,” said Dixon, who has heard the grumblings even if Taylor has not. “These are very important things, important strengths. He's become a good mid-range shooter, and we'll see more of that. I think he's gonna shoot well from the free-throw line, as well.”

Punctuating the point, Dixon added, “He's been pretty much everything we thought he'd be. I don't know if he'll ever score as many points as people want, but he's been a valuable player.”

A reserve forward and center, Taylor was highly valuable against Oakland last Saturday. He had 12 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes, hitting some big baskets to help Pitt storm back from a large deficit and avert an embarrassing home loss.

Seven of Taylor's rebounds came off the offensive glass. He is Pitt's second-leading rebounder so far, averaging 5.5 per game and averaging about 20 minutes per game.

“This year I took pride in being in the best shape I possibly could,” he said. “I'm way stronger than when I came in as a freshman. And I've lost a few pounds. I've definitely emphasized my rebounding.”

Bothered by injuries last season, Taylor maintained his reserve role before starting the last 20 games. Then he told Dixon he would rather come off the bench. Also, 7-foot center Steven Adams, a talented freshman from New Zealand, showed up and Talib Zanna, a 6-9 redshirt junior, elevated his game. Still, who ever asks not to start?

“I'm definitely not the type of person who cares whether he starts,” Taylor said. “A lot of people don't realize I took myself out of the lineup. I felt I needed to come off the bench and help the team that way. I feel like I'm a better player off the bench.”

A late-bloomer in basketball, Taylor left home in Greenburgh, N.Y., to attend the National Christian Academy in Maryland, where he advanced as a student and player.

He was Pitt's first McDonald's All-American in 22 years, a lofty honor often obscured by the fact it does not necessarily predict similar success in college.

Taylor has struggled, but he has also persevered. It has not gone unnoticed, or unappreciated.

“Dante's handled everything well,” said forward Lamar Patterson, a fourth-year junior who came to Pitt the same year. “You start small and work your way into having a good, successful career, and I think that's what Dante has done. He works hard every day, he's a good leader, and you can see he's just fighting and fighting.

“Some guys, if they don't live up to expectations they'll just give up or transfer out or stuff like that. But Dante stuck with it, and he's gonna keep fighting, and that's what we like. That's how Pitt is. We like tough guys who fight through things.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bcohn@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

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