Hoosiers' Taber Knows His Role - And Embraces It
Jan. 3, 2007
With the crowd on its feet, cheering the pivotal 3-pointer that caused the visitors to take a timeout, he stands at the center of the court, arms raised.
Was he the player who made the jumper from the wing? The one who fed the pass outside? The one who set the screen to free his teammate?
No - he was sitting on the bench. But now he's the first one on the court to congratulate his teammates, to give high-fives all around.
That's just the way it is for Kyle Taber - and the 6-7 sophomore knows his role and embraces it with a passion.
"You want to play no matter where you go, but when I came here I knew that I was not going to get in the games unless it's a situation where we are up by a lot," he says. "It's a lot of fun but it's also a lot of hard work. It's not all just glory, you need to put in long hours and come out to compete everyday."
Taber has appeared in just six games, totaling 10 minutes of action in his two years in Bloomington, but don't confuse a lack of playing time with a lack of work ethic. Taber earns his stripes behind the scenes, working tirelessly during practice to help his teammates improve and perfect strategy for the upcoming games. But that doesn't mean he gets treated any differently by head coach Kelvin Sampson.
"He's fair to everybody," Taber says. "He has different goals for the walk-ons in the classroom and certain things on the court, but he expects the same work ethic from everybody."
Throughout his coaching career, work ethic is a phrase that has constantly been linked to Sampson. He expects his players to give maximum effort, on and off the court, and according to Taber, that difference is easily noticed during practices.
"There's a big difference with Coach Sampson, especially in practice," Taber says. "You have to be more intense and into the whole practice the whole time."
Taber was a solid big man in high school, helping Evansville Central to a 20-5 record and a sectional championship in 2004. Taber averaged 13 points, 12 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game that year for the Bears. But though he drew attention to be a scholarship athlete at several small Division I and Division II institutions - "there were some weird names in there" - Taber knew he would be better off attending his state school and trying to walk on to the team.
"I'm from Indiana and I've been watching IU my whole life," he says. "I thought the chance to come here and to walk on would be a good experience."
When asked about what it feels like to wear the jersey that he grew up idolizing, Taber looks lost, as if he is consumed by memories of his past.
"The most recent memory I can think of was when they went to the Final Four in 2002," the Evansville native says. "Me and all my friends would go out to restaurants and watch all the games. It was crazy and exciting and it probably helped my decision to come here. I never thought about playing basketball here then - I was a sophomore at the time and I had no clue."
Taber, a sports marketing and management major, and fellow walk-on Adam Ahlfeld have a little extra motivation driving them this season. With former walk-on Errek Suhr earning a scholarship and contributing significant minutes and scoring for the Hoosiers this season, the walk-ons have an example of what can be earned with hard work and determination.
"Suhr's a good player and he could have gone to a lot of different schools," Taber says. "His height is the only thing that gets him down. He does a lot of things right and that's what gave him the chance. I know that I have to go out there and give it my best and whatever happens, happens."
Taber knows when his playing time comes. As was the case against Western Illinois on Dec. 6, the sophomore gets into games that are well out of reach and works as hard as possible in limited time. In that game, he came through with a rebound, a block and a steal in four minutes of action.
So what goes through Taber's head when the Hoosier lead begins to increase late in the contest?
"You get nervous on the bench, but once you go in you just play," he says. "Your hands might get a little bit sweaty, but I'm getting used to it now. Once I get in I just play basketball." And when Sampson calls the sophomore over, Taber gets to experience the ultimate thrill for an Indiana native - he gets to hear a crowd of over 17,000 people give him a standing ovation as he checks in at the scorers table and enters the contest.
"It means they like me a little bit," he says. "I'm living the dream."
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