Zac Taylor's six points in nine minutes for the University of Toledo men's basketball team on Saturday represented a lot of dedication and determination on the part of the Clay graduate and the UT athletic training staff.
Before Saturday's win over Eastern Michigan, Taylor hadn't played in nearly two months because of knee problems, the details taking several twists and turns over the course of the season.
Taylor, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound freshman from Oregon, hopes his success in the last game can carry over to tonight's matchup against Central Michigan, and for the rest of the year.
"It's nice to know they haven't given up all hope with me for this season, that they still possibly need to use me," Taylor said.
Taylor's right knee, which had torn ligaments the summer before his senior year at Clay, is fine. It's his left knee that has been the source of problems ever since Taylor arrived on the UT campus to start his freshman year last fall. Before practice started, he had soreness during individual workouts and was treated for patella tendinitis. When the treatment wasn't working he had an MRI.
The MRI revealed Taylor had a bone chip embedded in his patella tendon. In September he had a surgical procedure to remove the bone.
Taylor recovered well enough to play in UT's second game of the year at Xavier, and also in the Miami tournament later that month. But one day in practice he banged his knee against a teammate and problems began. Persistent pain led to doctors finding infection in the incision, and six weeks ago Taylor underwent another procedure to clean it out.
"He's had to fight through some adversity," UT coach Gene Cross said. "He could have tanked it and not gone hard after his rehab at all. But he's really been able to give everything he's had to his rehab."
With the infection gone, Taylor worked with associate head athletic trainer Brian Jones to see if he could get his knee back into playing shape for this season. Some days he still had sharp pain in his knee but others he was able to complete cardio training.
"We finally got to the point where we needed to push him and say, we know it's going to be sore, the scar tissue's got to heal, we've got to get you moving," Jones said. "He pushed through it."
The team discussed a medical redshirt, but with nearly half the Rockets' season remaining, Cross felt Taylor could still help the team.
"I think he realizes his value to this team," Cross said. "I think he's excited because he's watched enough where he feels like he can really contribute, which he has and can."
Taylor showed enough in practice last week that the training staff felt he was ready to play again. After signing his letter of intent to play for the Rockets more than a year ago, he was finally able to play in front of the Savage Arena crowd.
"It was really nerve-racking the first game," Taylor said. "Knowing you've got a lot of people knowing you're the hometown kid and wanting to do well. Knowing you're not all the way 100 percent and you might not play as well as you could. I think I played pretty well for those circumstances."
Taylor had two baskets and made both of his free throw attempts, also grabbing two rebounds. In the limited minutes he played, he showed glimpses of being the strong low-post presence the Rockets need.
In his postgame interview Cross profusely thanked Jones and his staff for helping Taylor and senior Ridley Johnson return to health.
"Zac was a little sore Sunday, but he called me Sunday evening and said he felt much better, which was a relief for me," Cross said. "It's nice to see him have some success."
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