Diamond In The Rough? SIU Sure Hopes So

Maybe Diamond Taylor should have gone to the Southern Illinois University in the first place.

The 6-foot-4 guard was once pursued by Big Ten schools such as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue.  Southeastern Conference schools such as Kentucky and Vanderbilt, along with Wake Forest of the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Missouri Valley Conference foe Bradley also had an interest in Taylor, who eventually chose Wisconsin over the rest.

The talented guard from Bolingbrook is on his way to the Carbondale campus via the University of Wisconsin after being suspended, then booted from the Badgers' basketball program after he and teammate Jeremy Glover were charged with burglary and underage drinking.

In an interview with ESPNChicago.com, his former AAU coach Mike Mullins (yes, father of future Saluki Hall of Famer Bryan Mullins) said going to SIU would be a good fit for Taylor.
"It'll be a great opportunity for him to get back into basketball and on the road to doing positive things with his life. He made a foolish mistake, and he has paid the penalty for it. There's no excusing it. He's accepting the consequences."
It's not necessarily the story some Saluki fans want to hear after the Ryan Hare arrest, but if there is anyone Saluki fans should trust, it has to be Mike Mullins, right?  Mullins has sent some pretty talented players down I-57, including his son, and junior forward Carlton Fay.  The Mullins family and Lowery family are close, so I do not feel as if the senior Mullins would send a bad apple down to Carbondale.

Taylor was not only one of the best recruits in the state of Illinois when he graduated, but he was also among the best in the nation.  His talent and body style alone should make Saluki fans giddy about this get.  He will likely have four years of eligibility after redshirting last season with the Badgers.  He'll be a third-year "freshman" -- like many SIU undergrads.  But it really is hard to focus on the on-court stuff when the off-the-court issues loom large.

When Taylor finally takes the court, he will be surrounded by what should be a team on the brink of something special.

Kevin Dillard, Ryan Hare, Anthony Booker and Nick Evans will be juniors.  Kendal Brown-Surles, Gene Teague and Jordan Myers will be sophomores, with the possibility of Myers being a redshirted freshman.  Carlton Fay, Jack Crowder and John Freeman will be seniors, while Justin Bocot will be in his third year with the Salukis and classified as a senior, but is currently on the path to gaining a fourth year of eligibility.

Anyone afraid of Taylor's cloudy past should try to remember the name Roland Roberts.  He was a transfer from a power conference school with a questionable past.  Roberts was able to shake off his baggage and lead SIU to two NCAA Tournaments including a very successful Sweet Sixteen season in 2002.

Sometimes a change of scenery can benefit a player off -- and on --  the court. SIU head coach Chris Lowery is no stranger to dealing with baggage-filled ballers.  Balancing the addition of Taylor with the suspension of Hare could be Lowery's biggest challenge.

But those are the things one must deal with when they make $750,000 per year.