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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Article on Transfer Shawn Taggart

Taggart works to be ready for Tigers
By Dan Wolken
February 7, 2007

Shawn Taggart comes to the Finch Center every day with his University of Memphis teammates and wears the same blue-and-white mesh jerseys. He even spends 20 minutes shooting before the players gather for a film session.

But that's where Taggart's practice ends.

On Nov. 7, Taggart, a 6-10 sophomore, underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee. Since then, Taggart's focus has been on getting ready for the 2007-08 season.

The great irony, of course, is that Taggart's preparation would have been geared for 2007-08 even if he hadn't suffered the season-ending injury during a pick-up game in early October. After coming to Memphis from Iowa State last summer, Taggart was already slated to sit out one year due to NCAA transfer rules.

But that fact hasn't made this year any easier for Taggart, who is still four or five months away from being cleared to play basketball.

"It's a long time, and I hate sitting out, but whatever I've got to do to get it better," Taggart said. "It's real hard. Sometimes I'm just like, man, I wish I could just practice. I get mad, but I understand. During the games, I get so mad. I wish I could get out there, but I can't."

Though Taggart has had to watch Memphis rise to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and compile a 19-3 record heading into Thursday's game at UAB, there's little doubt the Tigers miss him.

Memphis was hoping a healthy Taggart would have been a key practice player this season, challenging sophomore Robert Dozier every day at the power forward position and readying himself for next year.

Instead, Taggart has spent very little time on the court and countless hours in the weight room, where he's bulked up to 233 pounds from 218 when he arrived.

"I was mad" when the injury occurred, Taggart said. "I told myself I was going to cry when I got home, but I really didn't cry. I was mad, but I looked at it like, God did this for a reason. I'm going to be in the weight room more and get stronger because that's the only thing I need right now, the weights. My game's good, but I have to get stronger."

Athletic trainer Chris Simmons said Taggart's rehab is on schedule, meaning he should be ready to go by next fall.

"He's doing great. He's doing everything we've asked of him," Simmons said. "He's bringing great energy every day, and he's doing everything to get back on the court. He's got to get stronger in his lower body. Everything we're doing is based on him stabilizing his lower body and being able to accelerate when he gets on the court."

Though point guard Derrick Rose is clearly expected to be a high-impact addition to next year's Tigers, a healthy Taggart could be another significant piece. When Taggart signed with Iowa State out of Mt. Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina, rated him the nation's 35th-best high school prospect.

Memphis, in fact, recruited Taggart out of high school and was happy to take him last summer when he was looking for a new school after Iowa State fired coach Wayne Morgan.

Though Taggart didn't have a standout freshman year, averaging 5.6 points, it can in part be blamed on an illness that sapped his strength and bothered him most of the season.

"He gives us another 6-11, athletic kid who can play multiple positions," Memphis assistant Derek Kellogg, who recruited Taggart initially, said. "It will be interesting to see if he can carry over what he did early in his freshman year at Iowa State, when he was playing really well before he got sick. If he can get on that path and continue to get bigger, stronger and improve, it gives us another frontcourt option."

Even completely healthy, Taggart knows he'll have to compete hard for playing time next year. In his best-case scenario, he'll have to supplant Dozier for a starting spot.

And unless one of Memphis' big men leaves for the professional ranks or transfers, the Tigers will have a glut of players at the center and power forward positions, including Joey Dorsey, Kareem Cooper and Pierre Niles.

"If everybody stays, it's really going to be a dynasty," Taggart said. "I can't wait. Coach told me the sky's the limit. I could start, I could take somebody's spot, I could get a lot of minutes but I don't care as long as we're winning."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

Next for No. 8 Tigers

Opponent: UAB

When, where: Thursday, 8 p.m., at Birmingham


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