Theairra Taylor started all 34 games last season for the Hawkeye basketball team as a junior.
She also played in all 31 games in her sophomore season.
Not bad for a player who had missed 53 games in her first two years because of knee surgeries.
The Hawkeyes started strong, knocking off four top-20 teams last season early in the year. They lost five straight Big Ten games in a row but still finished with 21 wins and hosted the first round of the NCAA tournament.
They beat Miami in the first game, then lost to Notre Dame, who went to the Final Four, in the second game.
Theairra was named the team’s Most Improved Player, averaged a career high 8.7 points and 26.3 minutes per game. She also had 80 assists and 41 steals.
“We came out pretty hot,” said Theairra. “We played some tough teams and we really got up for those teams. The teams that we really didn’t expect were as good, we didn’t come out as hard and that’s why we had a couple of bad losses.”
Theairra enjoyed playing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the first round games of the NCAA tournament.
“That was really exciting,” Theairra said. “To play at Carver on our home floor. Everybody played great and Sam (Logic) had a great game.”
Samantha enjoys playing with Theairra and said she is getting stronger and better all the time.
“I think she’s feeling really good about building her leg strength and not have to conserve it,” said Sam. “She can go all-out and you have to have that mentality when you’ve missed so many games. We’ve seen it in practice and now everyone is seeing how good she is in games.”
Samantha likes to have Theairra and Melissa Dixon on the wings when she drives to the basket…both can hit the 3-pointer.
“When you drive you need people to collapse,” said Sam. “Having those two out there, they are not going to collapse. Either way we’re going to get good shots. Thea is so quick that they have to give up the three when they cover her because they can’t be right on her or she‘ll drive around them.”
With all the challenges Theairra had to overcome with her knee surgeries, I had to ask if she ever thought of giving basketball up.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I didn’t have as many of those thoughts last year but they definitely come and go.”
Theairra was a two-sport athlete growing up in St. Paul, Minn. and attending Central High School.
Besides playing basketball, where she was all-conference four years in a row, Theairra ran track and was the 200-meter champion as a sophomore.
Theairra helped her basketball team to a four-year record of 81-11, including a 32-0 record and state championship as a sophomore.
In 2009, Theairra was named St. Paul City Conference Player of the Year.
She led her conference in scoring and free throw percentage as a senior and was a two-time captain.
When it came time to pick a college her final five were Minnesota, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Theairra picked Iowa because of the coaches and the team.
“I came here once and it just felt right,” she said.
When Theairra was a freshman at Iowa, she played in 10 games, starting eight before a season-ending knee injury. She averaged eight points and 4.9 rebounds per game. She had played in too many games and couldn’t red shirt.
As a sophomore, Theairra tore her ACL for the third time in preseason practice and red shirted.
As a red shirt sophomore Thea played in all 31 games and averaged three points and three rebounds per game.
“That was probably the toughest year without any question,” said Theairra. “I wondered whether I was good enough and if I would re-injure myself.”
Iowa’s head coach Lisa Bluder appreciates Theairra’s challenges .
“Theairra has gone through so much to be a part of the Hawkeye team,” said coach Bluder. “She is an unbelievable role model on perseverance. If anyone on our team gets tired, they just look at Theairra and think of what she has been through to play.”
Theairra will be the only senior on the team and coach Bluder believes she will be up for the challenge.
“Theairra will definitely be a leader for us this year,” said the coach. “She is a leader by example. I am really excited about her senior year and the possibilities.”
The coaches have talked to her and Theairra is ready.
“I feel really old,” Theairra said with a laugh. “I’m excited. Leading comes with confidence. Those past years that’s what I was lacking most.”
Growing up in Minnesota, Theairra followed pro basketball and was a LeBron James fan from the start.
When the Hawkeye team was in Florida last season for some games they got to see LeBron and the Miami Heat play.
As for her future plans Theairra said, “eventually I do want to coach. I don’t know at what level.”
Whatever she does you know she won’t give up until she finishes what she started.