By Tyler Godwin
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
When University of Texas sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor suffered a left wrist injury against Iowa on Nov. 20, the No. 10/10 Longhorns needed a guard to step up and take on more responsibility. Sophomore guard Kendal Yancy knew he was ready to accept the challenge.
During his freshman season, Yancy averaged 3.4 points in 12.1 minutes per game while seeing action in 34 of a possible 35 contests and making 10 starts. He came on strong during the final few weeks of the year, averaging 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists while hitting 3-of-4 three-pointers in 19.5 minutes per game during the Horns’ two contests at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship in Kansas City.
Following the season, Yancy went back to work immediately. In the weight room, he worked to gain speed and quickness. On the court, he improved his all-around skill set.
In the three games before Taylor’s injury earlier this year, Yancy averaged just 3.7 points and one rebound in 14 minutes per game. Contrast that to the 10 games the Longhorns played recently without their starting point guard, and the difference is eye-opening. During the stretch, Yancy posted 7.2 points and 4.4 rebounds while playing 27.2 minutes per contest and made six appearances in the starting lineup.
“When Isaiah went out, I felt like I needed to attack the basket, and that’s what I did,” said the Richardson, Texas native. “I had a little bit more of a green light, and I felt like that helped my confidence. And all the time I spent working out this summer helped my confidence a lot as well.”
Yancy’s hard work over the summer in the gym paid offTwice a day, he would shoot 500 three-pointers, with free throws and mid-range jumpers in between.
“He wanted to work really hard on improving his jumper,” junior guard Javan Felix said. “Last year, people played off him a lot. That affected him because he couldn't get to his strong point. He couldn't drive the ball. But he’s been hitting shots this year and now it’s helping him drive the ball, and that’s what he’s really good at.”
While Yancy was in high school, he played on the same AAU team as current Kansas State guard Marcus Foster. When Yancy saw his former teammate earn All-Big 12 Second Team and Big 12 All-Newcomer Team honors last year, that added fuel to the fire for Yancy to get better.
“When Isaiah was out, everybody had to take it to another level and Kendal definitely did that,” Felix said. “He was more aggressive. He took an extra focus to the little things. He took on learning a new position, as he played point guard at times and that helped him learn the offense better. His confidence has gone through the roof.”
Once his teammates saw his confidence increase, Yancy said that made him feel more comfortable.
“I knew I had it in me,” Yancy stated. “Seeing what I can do to impact this team and what I can do to improve myself really helped. It’s all about my team. I’m here to be a good teammate, and it’s about the team getting a win.”
Assistant coach Chris Ogden also noticed Yancy’s confidence improve during the recent stretch.
“Kendal’s development has been huge for our team,” said Ogden. “He’s been there before now and performed. So when you put him out there in tight moments in Big 12 Conference and postseason games coming up, you have a lot more trust in him.”
In his first start of the season against Saint Francis (Nov. 25), Yancy scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in a career-high 34 minutes. One game later, at No. 24/22 UConn, he hit a pair of free throws with two minutes left and scored all six of his points in the second half to help the Longhorns to a huge non-conference road victory.
Yancy showed his versatility and all-around game during a four-game stretch in December. He grabbed a career-high eight boards in 25 minutes against Texas State (Dec. 13). Yancy then posted a career-best seven assists against just one turnover in 20 minutes against Lipscomb (Dec. 16). He added eight points (4-of-4 FT) and three assists without a turnover in 33 minutes against Long Beach State (Dec. 20). Yancy registered a career-high 14 points and five rebounds in 34 minutes against Stanford (Dec. 23).
“Now that Isaiah’s back, my minutes will be cut down a little bit, which is understandable,” Yancy said. “But I’m still looking to be the best teammate possible. I’ll continue to attack the basket and always bring effort. Effort is important to me, especially bringing that spark off the bench.”
Head coach Rick Barnes expects the same out of his sophomore guard. But Barnes thinks Yancy’s minutes will be more valuable now.“What we’d like to see him do is continue to build on what he’s done during this stretch without Isaiah in the rotation,” Barnes said. “Although Kendal will probably play less minutes now, we’d like to see him take his game to an even higher level … his defensive focus, his rebounding, all of it.”