IOWA CITY — Theairra Taylor had every reason to get out, and every opportunity.
“She didn’t have to come back,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “I told her, ‘It’s OK. We’re going to pay for your education. You don’t have to do this.’ ”
She did it anyway.
Despite a career slowed by knee injuries (she has torn her ACL three times), and despite the advice of her doctors, Taylor stayed the course at Iowa.
Thursday night, after the Hawkeyes (21-7 overall, 9-5 Big Ten) face Ohio State (15-15, 5-9), Taylor will say good bye in what figures to be an emotional address to the fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I’m nervous about it,” she said. “It’s my night to thank everybody for supporting me.”
Samantha Logic got a jump-start on her emotions during a media exchange Tuesday, when Taylor became the subject.
“She’s such a strong person,” Logic said. “She never makes excuses, she never complains. She puts a lot of perspective out there on how important basketball has been to her, and how fast it can be taken away.”
Logic’s voice wavered, her eyes moistened.
“It’s hard to express how much she means to us.”
Tipoff is 6 p.m., and the game is an important one for the Hawkeyes, who can snag the No. 4 position in the Big Ten tournament if they win out and if Purdue stumbles.
But the night, and the postgame spotlight, will belong to Taylor, the Hawkeyes’ lone senior.
“The players love her, absolutely love her,” Bluder said. “She’s a tremendous basketball player, a tremendous human being.”
An all-stater at St. Paul (Minn.) Central High School, Taylor was in the same recruiting class as last year’s seniors — which included Morgan Johnson, Jaime Printy and Trisha Nesbitt.
Her first knee injury came in high school, her second came during the 10th game of her freshman season; she had been a starter and averaging 8.1 points per game.
Had that injury come one game sooner, she would have been granted a redshirt season by the NCAA.
In 2010, Taylor suffered her third ACL tear in 20 months during a preseason practice.
It was at that point in which Taylor was encouraged to end her career.
“The doctor said, ‘Do you want to be able to play with your kids when you’re older?’ ” Taylor recalled. “I guess I chose basketball. When you love something so much, you always want to give it another shot.
“I had a lot of low points, but the fans, the coaches, my teammates, they kept encouraging me.”
Taylor missed 53 games because of her knees. She rejoined the fray in 2011-12, averaging 3.1 points per game. She earned a starting position last season and looked like the player she had formerly been, with 8.7 points per game.
She has saved her best season for last, posting 11.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. She’s second on the team in steals, with 42.
And yet, she aches.
Her first activity after a game is to take her shoes off. Her second is to apply ice.
“I’m pretty sore,” she said. “But I’m old, so I’ve accepted it.”
It’s a quiet, inward acceptance from the player the Hawkeyes have lovingly dubbed Grandma.
“(Thursday) will be an important night for Thee, but it will be important to all of us,” said Melissa Dixon. “She never complains. She’s there to pick us up. We want nothing more than to send her out with a win.”
Win or lose, Taylor will hobble to midcourt afterward. She’ll take the microphone and, with a quiet voice, thank the fans, her teammates, her coaches.
Tears are likely.
I don’t want to get too emotional,” Taylor said. “I’ll probably look out there and think, ‘Uh, oh, this isn’t going to be good.’ ”
She has dealt with much worse.