As the only senior on a team that features seven underclassmen, Theairra Taylor gets a fair amount of good-natured teasing from her teammates.
“They call me the old lady on the team,” the fifth-year senior admitted.
Considering what Taylor has been through in her career, a little ribbing from her teammates doesn’t seem too bad.
In fact, that teasing from her teammates is part of what kept bringing Taylor back to basketball after three knee surgeries when it seemed like the odds were against her.
“To have the setbacks that I had and be able to come back and play on an awesome team like I am right now is just amazing,” Taylor said. “When you love something so much and love a group of people so much it’s hard to not want to be a part of it.”
Taylor came to Iowa after tearing the ACL in her knee in the final game of her prep career at St. Paul Central H.S. in Minnesota.
In her first season at Iowa, Taylor started eight games and averaged better than eight points a game before suffering the second ACL tear of her career in a game against South Dakota State.
“The second one was the hardest, just working so hard to get back and then getting injured again it was tough,” Taylor said. “It just seemed like a repeating cycle that was going to continue the entire time I was here.”
When Taylor suffered her third ACL tear in 20 months during preseason practice before her sophomore season in 2010 it looked like her college career may come to an end before it ever got started.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder certainly wouldn’t have blamed Taylor if that would have been the case.
“We met with Theiarra after her last injury and told her you don’t have to do this we are going to give you your scholarship no matter what,” Bluder said. “She didn’t even hesitate that she wanted to be a part of it again.”
Taylor went through it all for the third time in three seasons. The painful surgery, the grueling rehabilitation, the disappointing time on the sidelines.
“Looking back on it now it doesn’t seem as bad, but in those moments, it was definitely something that was really difficult to deal with,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to feel like part of the team when you aren’t on the court and that’s what was the hardest. My teammates did a great job of including me in everything and made me feel like I was still part of the team even though I wasn’t able to play.”
Taylor returned to the court in 2011 playing in all 31 games.
Last season the 5-foot-11 guard started all 34 games and was named the team’s most improved player.
Now in her final season, Taylor is turning in the best season of her career.
Through 14 games, Taylor is averaging a career-best 10.1 points per game and 4.2 rebounds.
“I’ve never been through an ACL, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to come back from one but let alone three,” Bluder said. “For me, it’s an extra personal gratification to see a kid like that out there performing after what they have been through.”
After missing 53 games because of these injuries early in her career, Taylor now has another streak going: 48 consecutive starts.
Taylor is fourth on the team in minutes played at better than 26 a game.
“Too many games close together and I might start slowing down a little bit, but besides that, I feel really good,” Taylor said. “I still feel like the old lady on the team, sometimes I’m like, ‘Somebody help me up.’<TH>”
Taylor is second on the team with 40 assists, helping the Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in that category.
She also is shooting a career-best 37 percent from the 3-point line.
“She can get to the rim beautifully, and that to me is the really pretty part of her game, but this year she is shooting the 3-ball really well,” Bluder said. “That is going to help make her more hard to guard.”
Although Taylor is having the best season of her career on the court, it’s still what she brings off the court that is perhaps the most valuable.
Bluder said Taylor has always been a leader by example, but the Iowa coach asked her lone senior to take on more of a vocal leadership role this season, which Taylor has embraced.
Although not intentionally, Bluder said, Taylor also has provided inspiration for her teammates and coaching staff.
“When a kid goes through as much as she’s gone through and they continue to fight to come back and they want to be in that uniform so badly that they will just about go through anything to do so how can that not be an inspiration to not only the players but us coaches?” Bluder asked.
“When you have a little tweaked ankle or a little thigh bruise or something like that you just look over there and see Theairra and what an example she has been you better be quiet. It’s amazing to have that kind of an example.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball