Worsham: Telepathy, Trust Key in Marlon Taylor's Growth
Digital Media Reporter
Those who are skeptical of the science behind extrasensory perception – ESP, in the common vernacular – need only watch Tremont Waters and Marlon Taylor play basketball together to have their doubts mitigated.
Turn on the tape of LSU’s 83-69 win over No. 18 Ole Miss on Tuesday in Oxford, and one gets the feeling that Waters and Taylor are communicating via a sixth sense.
Interview them – at separate times, in separate locations – and prepare to have those suspicions confirmed, so eerily similar are their answers.
“That pretty much clicked instantly,” Waters says of his chemistry with Taylor, days after assisting all five of Taylor’s field goals against the Rebels. “To be that good of an athlete, it’s not that hard to make plays with him.”
Ask Taylor the same question minutes later and in an entirely separate room, and the response sounds familiar.
“Him being from up north, that’s an instant connection,” Taylor, a Mount Vernon, N.Y. native says of Waters, a native of New Haven, Conn. “Me and him, when we’re out there, it’s like he knows where I’m at, and I know what he’s going to do. All we have to do is make eye contact. And sometimes we don’t. If he just sees me cut, he knows what to do. I don’t know. It’s weird.
“It’s like it’s telepathy.”
It’s the easiest – if not the most scientifically sound – explanation for a connection that’s quickly becoming one of the most entertaining in all of college basketball. In Tuesday’s win, the two hooked up for several highlight-worthy plays, including two alley-oops and an and-one from three-point territory.
Tremont Waters assisted all five of Marlon Taylor's field goals on Tuesday night. Their developing chemistry is so much fun. Taylor's such an intuitive cutter and Waters reads him well. pic.twitter.com/f7JMPi4SK5— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) January 17, 2019
“To be a good point guard, my dad always said to keep your head up,” says Waters, who leads the SEC with 9.0 assists per game in conference play. “When I’m dribbling, I’m not necessarily looking for him. I’m trying to make a play for my team. If he sees someone’s playing him too high, he’s going to go backdoor. If that’s the read, I’m going to make the right read.
“It’s off instinct for both of us. It’s something that’s clicked.”
The connection might’ve been instant, but it took time for their synchronicity to bear fruit on the floor. Waters assisted Taylor just four times in LSU’s first 10 games, including a five-game span from the Florida State loss to the Houston loss where the two failed to connect for a single field goal.
Since then, head coach Will Wade has increased Taylor’s minutes and role, and the team – and Waters’ dime tally – have reaped the benefits. In LSU’s last six contests – all Tiger wins, all Taylor starts – Waters and Taylor have teamed up for 11 field goals, including nine connections in the last four contests.
Moreover, in those six games, LSU has outscored opponents by 22 points per 100 possessions in minutes where the pair shares the floor. That number drops 18 points to four per 100 possessions when they’re not on the floor together.
Wade began leaning on Taylor more after LSU lost back-to-back games at the Advocare Classic in Orlando over the Thanksgiving holiday. Realizing he needed Taylor’s presence in the lineup to maximize the Tigers’ size and athleticism, he worked him into the rotation more and more until starting him against Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas.
The risk was clear. Taylor was a late-blooming prospect coming out of high school, having only picked up the sport as a high school junior. He grew up playing baseball and only transitioned to hoops after his high school baseball coach saw him dunk a baseball during a practice forced indoors by rain. Even after two years at junior college, Taylor arrived at LSU a raw prospect, and Wade was cautious with Taylor early in the season before entrusting him to a larger role of late.
That trust has paid off, as LSU is 8-1 in the nine games since Orlando, including a perfect 6-0 when Taylor starts.
“He’s an athletic specimen,” Wade says. “I always say, there’s two or three plays a game, he’s the only guy in the gym that can make them.”
Particularly on defense, where Taylor has emerged as a stopper capable of guarding point guards or power forwards and anyone in between.
“His defense is what really, really, helps us,” Wade says. “To have him and know that we can shut the water off to one of the other team’s good perimeter scorers, it’s a nice feeling going into the game, knowing that we’ve got a fighting chance to do that. That’s really what he’s brought to our team.”
Marlon Taylor for LSU:— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) January 15, 2019
🏀First seven games: 12 minutes per game, 4.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 0.3 spg, 42% FG, 25% 3FG, 54.5% FT, Tigers 5-2
🏀Last eight games: 28 minutes per game, 9.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 spg, 55.6% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 74% FT, Tigers 7-1
Then there’s the intangible energy of his high-flying slams. Taylor absolutely skies for his dunks, displaying a vertical unlike any Tiger in recent history. He’s coy about exactly how high that vertical is – he’ll only offer a range when asked the question, which he says is a daily occurrence, whether in interview or Instagram direct messages.
“Between 40 and 50 inches,” he smiles.
For Waters, the answer to that question is simply ‘high enough.’ Only once, in practice, has he thrown a lob too high for Taylor to reach, a rare sight he never expects to see again.
“It was like, top of the backboard,” Waters says. “He almost got that one, too, though. I would say nothing’s too high for him when he’s locked in.”