Forgetting basketball for a moment, Penn State's Brandon Taylor is a different person these days.
His mannerisms, the way he speaks confidently - holding eye contact instead of glancing away toward the ceiling - and the casual confidence he wears walking around the Nittany Lions' facilities, they all speak to a new level of maturity for the third-year student.
In fact, Saturday morning at Penn State's Advanced Skills Camp, head coach Patrick Chambers called upon Taylor to relay some of his experiences through his first two years as Nittany Lion to the freshman, sophomore and junior campers. This is all part of the plan, an implementation Chambers seeks and encourages out of the young men under his watch.
So when Taylor is asked about last season, that in which his Nittany Lions appeared poised to make serious strides before hitting a devastating midseason lull of six-consecutive losses to open the Big Ten schedule, his reply is far from indecisive. Feeling pandered to by talk of being "close" a year ago, Taylor has bigger things in mind for himself and his teammates during the upcoming season.
"I think that's the one thing that, me personally, I'm tired of hearing. I'm tired of hearing it. I'm tired of being 'close' or 'right there.' I'm tired of hearing it," he said. "I want to get there. I want to be there. So I feel like we had an OK year, we've done things that some other Penn State teams have never done, but I think things should only get better.
"Me, I'm a winner. I've always won, so I just want to bring that here."
To date, that process has featured its share of challenges for Taylor.
Though he finished the year as the Nittany Lions' third-leading scorer (9.2 points per game) behind junior guard D.J. Newbill and fifth-year senior Tim Frazier, respectively, Taylor's production was at times erratic. Often the third scorer Chambers so desperately implored, the Nittany Lions went as Taylor did offensively, finishing the year 7-6 when three-or-more players scored in double-digits.
A year ago, the most visible man-molding project was Frazier, a kid who started his career at Penn State "very quiet, very meek," and finished as a true ambassador for the program, according to Chambers. With Frazier picked up as an undrafted free agent by the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers this past week, the resulting void has created an ideal opportunity for the Nittany Lions' next wave of key leaders to step forward, not least of all Taylor.
Said Taylor, "Tim was our leader. Even off the court when he was hurt, he was still our leader. We listened to him every day, and that just means that guys like myself, Ross and D.J., we have to take that role now and help D.J. lead the team."
This, of course, says nothing of the physical transformation Taylor has quietly worked toward since enrolling at Penn State two years ago.
Nervous, quiet and chubby-faced, Taylor came to Penn State as a 6-foot-6-inch, 250 pound forward with extra weight that needed to be exchanged for muscle. Practically living in the weight room, Taylor's newly chiseled frame doesn't even resemble the raw freshman of two years ago.
Now, spending additional time honing his ball-handling and post-up skills this summer, Taylor is wholly focused on the role he plans to fulfill this year on the hardwood. Specifically, working extensively in advance of an anticipated move to the three this season, an ever-improving combination of size and speed could make Taylor more poised for success than at any other point in his Penn State career.
"I want to be a three. I think my basketball career will flourish as a three, and I think that's my position that I have to be," he said. "I know ball-handling was one of the most important things that I had to work on this year.
"I think once I got here and noticed how strong the Big Ten is and how much taller guys are and bigger than me, that's when I figured that I have to play against people that I can do it to and not be overpowered and play against guys that are three or four inches taller than me."
Perfectly at home in his role with the Nittany Lions, the position evolution is exactly how Taylor wants it to be.
Said Taylor, "Now, I'm the mismatch. That's how I try to look at it."