A year ago, the most important relationship that Shaka Smart built when he became the Texas Longhorns head coach was with point guard Isaiah Taylor, who opted to forgo the NBA Draft to return to school. After Friday night's heartbreaking loss to the Northern Iowa Panthers on a half-court buzzer beater, Taylor once again faces the same decision.
Unsurprisingly, he wasn't ready to talk about it after scoring a game-high 22 points to help keep the 'Horns in the contest after falling into an early deficit.
"I'll make a decision when I make it," Taylor said. "At this time I'm just focused on my team."
It was a team that Taylor carried throughout the course of the game. As seniors Connor Lammart and Javan Felix went cold from deep in hitting only 2-of-10 three pointers, Taylor set a career high by hitting three of his own. The performance wasn't perfect -- he missed a go-ahead runner in the lane prior to Northern Iowa star Wes Washpun hitting one of two free throws, but he responded by driving once again and tying the game with 2.7 seconds remaining.
Taylor returned to school to excel in exactly those type of moments. It just wasn't enough, as Northern Iowa's Paul Jesperson then responded with his miracle shot to end the game and the Texas season. And, perhaps, Taylor's career in burnt orange.
"Right now I'm not even thinking about that," Taylor said. "Going into this year my main reason for coming back was wanting to go deep in the tournament. It got cut short."
The question now becomes whether Taylor believes that he still has unfinished business at Texas.
Does he want to take another shot at a deep NCAA Tournament run with the help of a talented 2016 recruiting class that could also feature five-star big Jarrett Allen? Having an elite point guard like Taylor to get him the ball could help sway Allen, who projects as a one-and-done player.
Or does Taylor have people he needs to take care of by playing basketball professionally?
The other consideration is whether he can actually increase his draft stock. He received a late first-round grade last season, but Draft Express currently ranks him No. 37 in its latest Mock Draft and the No. 67 prospect overall, hardly positioning him for guaranteed money if those projections prove accurate.
As a playmaker, he's beyond reproach -- he finished third on the all-time single-season list for Texas with a 2.67 assist-to-turnover rate this season. The shooting remains the bigger concern for scouts, though with his strong performance against Nothern Iowa, he was able to elevate his three-point shooting percentage from 28.2 percent last season to 31.1 percent this year even as he increased his overall volume.
How much upside is there left there? He's now made modest improvements after the last two years and another jump to 33 percent or 34 percent could increase his stock modestly, especially if accompanied by another increase in volume.
It's a difficult choice, and one that will likely take some time to play out, especially since players can now declare for the draft, participate in the NBA Draft Combine, and then return to school as long as they don't hire an agent.