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The will of Theairra Taylor

BY MATT CABEL | FEBRUARY 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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They call her “Grandma.”

Her knees creak and ache like one, after all, and she’s an “old” fifth-year senior — the lone member of the Iowa women’s basketball team’s graduating class, at that.

“I ignore [them] now,” Iowa senior guard Theairra Taylor said about her knees. “They’re on a whole different planet.”

Taylor is two years removed from her third ACL reconstruction surgery. There’s always doubt about a player returning to glory after one surgery and the rehab that comes with it. There’s even more that comes with going through the process a second time.

Playing after a third surgery in three years is almost unheard of. Head coach Lisa Bluder said that she gave Taylor “every opportunity to bail out.”

And yet, there’s Taylor, cutting down the lane, catching a pass from point guard Sam Logic for a lay-up on a fast break. There’s Taylor, starting every game two years in a row. There’s Taylor, still playing the game she loves, when others would have quit.

“They spent a lot of money on me and my body — those ACL surgeries aren’t cheap,” Taylor said. “I appreciate that she gave me that option, and that made me feel good and made me want to come back — not only for myself, but for her and the program.”

Now she averages almost 11 points per game, the most in her career, af-ter missing a total of 53 games dealing with her injuries. Her experiences alone qualify her as a leader, but so do her consistent scoring numbers.

“Any human person would have to get down after going through three of those [ACL surgeries],” Bluder said. “And then, just mentally coming back, and not having it in the back of your mind, ‘Is it going to happen again? Am I really meant to play college basketball?’ Having those kind of thoughts is natural, and I think she had to spend a lot of time overcoming those thoughts and battling them, and winning that battle, which she’s done.”

The team and the fans have the chance to recognize Taylor for her com-mitment and resilience during the tonight’s Senior Night matchup against Ohio State. Bluder described the evening as an “emotional tug.”

“She deserves great recognition,” Bluder said. “For what she’s done for our program, being here for five years, being the example that she is, going through the knee surgeries, continuing to stay positive … I just really want to send her out on a good note … giving her the opportunity to say thank you, giving her the opportunity to be recognized by everybody.”

And yet, Taylor remains as humble and shy as ever. While the coaches and fan base are thanking her, she wants to thank them for supporting her.

“For believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” Taylor said. “Af-ter every gave when I was injured, fans would approach me all the time telling me things that frankly, I needed to hear.”

Her own bobble head, which was given out earlier this season, sits among her collection of previous seniors, but she doesn’t dwell much on it. The entire Ohio State matchup is dedicated to her, but she’s not dwelling on it. She’s more concerned with thanking the fans.

“She doesn’t like attention too much, and that’s just kind of how she is,” Logic said. “She deserves it, but she really doesn’t want too much of it. But no one else deserves her own day more than her.”

Logic noted the calmness Taylor shows in everything she does. Maybe that calmness is how she came back from three devastating injuries. And that calmness will be present as she plays her last regular-season home game. But don’t expect the lone senior to have a big head: She wants a win, not glory.

“She’s been through everything, been through worse than what we’ve been through,” Logic said. “In that sense, you just know she’s going to give everything she can for this team doing whatever she can offensive-ly, defensively, leadership wise. She’s the heart of this team.”


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