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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tigers' Taggart plays catch-up in practices

Tigers' Taggart plays catch-up in practices

By Jim Masilak
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shawn Taggart didn't notice the cut on his left arm Tuesday until his white practice jersey had become speckled with blood.

The University of Memphis' sophomore forward was too busy trying to keep up with the pace of the Tigers' practice and the exhortations of coach John Calipari to notice something as trivial as an open wound.

Shawn Taggart is busy trying to keep up with the pace of the Tigers' practice. "I didn't even realize it until I saw the blood on my shirt," Taggart said. "I had a lot of other things on my mind."

A 6-10, 230-pound transfer from Iowa State, Taggart was ineligible to play for the Tigers last season per NCAA rules. When he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee during a pickup game at the Finch Center last year, it kept him from practicing with his new teammates as well.

Now, with the Tigers counting on Taggart to provide some frontcourt size and muscle as they make another run at the Final Four, the native of Richmond, Va., is in a race to make up for lost time.

Calipari, by and large, is pleased with what he's seen thus far.

"He's doing fine," the coach said. "He's behind, but he's supposed to be."

That doesn't mean the first two weeks of practice haven't provided Taggart with an unprecedented level of frustration.

"I get mad at myself sometimes," he says, "when I really don't know what I'm doing."

Taggart admits he's been overwhelmed by the searing pace of the Tigers' full-court style. He has yet to fully grasp the complexities of the offense and is still learning what's required of him at the defensive end. And while he watched the teams' practices from the sidelines last season, he was nonetheless taken aback by Calipari's demanding ways and intolerance of repeated mistakes when those (constructive) criticisms were directed at him.

"The speed of the game -- I've got to catch up to the speed of the game. When I do that, I'm gonna play real well," Taggart said. "I watched it last year and thought it couldn't be that hard. But it's hard, sprinting up and down the court."

If Taggart' conditioning is still below par following last summer's knee surgery, he has made obvious strides in another department.

Realizing there was a potential for conflict with a temperamental player who had long been coddled, Calipari addressed the matter in a proactive fashion.

"What I let him know early on is, 'You've met your match here,'" Calipari said. "And he's been fine."

While Taggart occasionally bristles in the face of Calipari's admonishments, he has kept the feedback to a minimum.

"I've never had real coaching like this. It's a good thing for me. If I have a future in basketball, this is gonna get me prepared for the next level," Taggart said "In the past, I probably would have talked back to the coach."

A top-100 recruit out of Durham (N.C.) Mt. Zion Christian Academy, Taggart chose Iowa State over the Tigers As a freshman for the Cyclones in 2005-06, he averaged a modest 5.6 points and 3.6 rebounds before deciding to trade Ames for Memphis.

The Tigers' lack of inside depth last season -- particularly when forward Joey Dorsey was in foul trouble -- led fans to look longingly at the idle Taggart. But Calipari doesn't want the player burdened by unrealistic expectations.

"Last year was one of those years where you're not playing," Calipari said, "and we all build up somebody more than they need to be built up because they're not playing."

At the same time, Calipari expects Taggart to be productive off the bench, whether in place of Dorsey or junior forward Robert Dozier.

"He'll be a little nervous ... but I think he's ready to help us.

For us to do something crazy, we've got to be ready to do something without Joey," Calipari said. "He's got a chance.

One thing you lose (when you miss a season) is a little bit of the competitive edge -- the I'm gonna play harder than the other guys I'm playing against, get more loose balls and rebounds.

"You never know one way or the other. I think he's fine."

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