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MIAC Friday Feature: Carleton's Taylor Hanson and His Incredible Journey

January 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm
By Matt Higgins, MIAC

Taylor Hanson, men's basketball action, Friday Feature image

NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Often times, college student's journey is straightforward, from "Point A" to "Point B." But as Carleton College men's basketball star Taylor Hanson (Sr./St. Paul, Minn./Minnehaha Academy) embarks on his final season with the Knights, a look back at his journey reveals numerous twists, turns, peaks and valleys.

Hanson's path started in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn., and headed East, all the way to Connecticut College in New London, Conn. However, his travels brought him back to Minnesota, where he settled in Northfield on the Carleton campus. A serious knee injury cut his promising first season with the Knights short, and required an ardent rehab to get back on the court. Hanson returned to have a spectacular junior season and now, as a senior, he looks to write a compelling final chapter to his fascinating story.

All the twists and turns in Hanson's journey certainly could have resulted in a modified route or different path than he first intended. But whatever has come along, Hanson has navigated the murky waters with the same desire and maturity that have made him one of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's (MIAC) most versatile players, and the Knights unquestioned leader.

"The thing I've learned the most in college is I can get through anything, even when it doesn't look good," Hanson said. "Perseverance is the main thing I've learned in my college experience."

Taylor Hanson, Men's Basketball ActionTO CONNECTICUT AND BACK

Hanson starred at Minnehaha Academy in St. Paul and was highly recruited by many MIAC schools as well as some schools much further from home. Carleton Head Coach Guy Kalland admired the player and person Hanson had proven to be during his high school career, and pursued him to join the Knights. At that point, Hanson was pretty set on heading east to Connecticut College, but Kalland asked Hanson to at least take a campus visit to Northfield, where the Knights planted a seed that would pay off down the road.

"We recruited him really hard," Kalland said. "He was very forthright and let me know he visited out East and he thought the world of it and it was his number one choice. My sense was that he is a resolute enough young man that when he said he was going to visit in the spring, he was going to come do it. We told him we thought he'd be pretty impressed, particularly with Carleton's economic department."

Prior to his visit to Carleton, Hanson was set on heading East, but his trip to Northfield made him pause and think things through. A few days later, he called Kalland and informed him he would indeed be heading to Connecticut College, and Kalland thanked him for giving Carleton a shot and wished him luck. But that wasn't the end of Hanson's Carleton story.

As a freshman, Hanson made a major impact on the court for the Camels. He enjoyed his new settings and the chance to experience life far from his Minnesota roots. He was one of the NESCAC's breakout stars, averaging 9.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.7 blocked shots while helping the team go 12-13 with a trip to the NESCAC quarterfinals. Hanson led the team in rebounding, steals and blocked shots and ranked third in scoring and assists.

However, he had a couple images he just couldn't get out of his head. His trip to Carleton the previous spring revealed a true team, with chemistry and closeness that stuck with him, as well as a top-flight academic school and an environment where he felt comfortable, and felt he could thrive.

"What made me choose to go to [Connecticut] in the first place was I wanted to get out of Minnesota and experience another part of the country," Hanson said. "I had a good experience, but there were a few things that made me feel like it wasn't the best fit.

"[At Carleton] the team and how everyone got along really stuck out to me. It stuck with me the whole time I was out East. Everyone gets along, the team chemistry was really good and it was a good environment."

That led Hanson to pick up the phone and place a call to Kalland to see if he was still interested, and if transferring was an option. "I got a voicemail in the spring and asked me to give him a call," Kalland said. "My heart started thumping." It was safe to say the coach was still interested.

Because of Carleton's high retention rate, transfer students - particularly transfer student-athletes - are incredibly rare. Hanson took a shot anyway and applied, figuring if he got in he'd make the move back to Minnesota, and if not he'd continue at Connecticut College. "I ended up getting accepted," Hanson said, "and it worked out great."

Taylor Hanson, Men's Basketball actionANOTHER BUMP IN THE ROAD

Fast forward to the 2011-12 season. Now a sophomore, Hanson was making an immediate impact on the court for Carleton. Through 11 games, he averaged 11.0 points and 7.7 rebounds with 15 assists, 12 steals and 11 blocked shots. However, the next detour in Hanson's journey emerged in the form of a season-ending knee injury.

"I had never dealt with an injury like that before," said Hanson. "It was really different, not to be active for the first time in my life. It was tough to sit and watch every game, and I just wanted to be out there with my teammates."

Though he was forced to sit out the final 14 games of the season, Hanson knew he had two years remaining and was determined to get back on the court. Fortunately, he possessed the appropriate mindset to pull off such a comeback.

"He's such a competitor," Carleton Assistant Coach Ryan Kershaw said of Hanson. "He's one of those kids, from a mentality standpoint, he can basically just will himself to a different level. His mind over matter is pretty impressive."

It also helped that Hanson didn't have to go it alone. A teammate - junior Tyler Goetz - also suffered a season-ending injury, so the two attacked their rehab in tandem. "We talked through things and went to rehab together," Hanson said. "Knowing I still had two years left gave me something to work for."

Hanson's rehab was a success, and he entered his final two years healthy and ready to finally make a lasting impact on the court for Carleton.

Taylor Hanson, Men's Basketball ActionBOUNCING BACK

Hanson's stats from his freshman season at Connecticut College and his abbreviated sophomore campaign at Carleton evidenced an extremely versatile player. That has continued through his junior and the start of his senior seasons. A year ago, Hanson helped Carleton go 16-11 overall, with a 12-8 MIAC record, which was good for fourth place and a Playoff spot. Hanson and the Knights beat Bethel in the conference quarterfinals, then lost at eventual champ - and Final Four team - St. Thomas in the semis.

Hanson averaged 9.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3. 1 assists with 21 steals and 13 blocked shots while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor. However, his value may have been best evidenced by another stat. Hanson had a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, and an even better mark of 3.2 in conference play. His overall mark was third in the conference and among the best marks in the nation. He also ranked eighth in assists, 10th in rebounding and 11th in field goal percentage and minutes.

However, Kalland thinks Hanson's worth extends beyond the stat sheet, as he excels at immeasurables. That covers both the little things on the court that help win games, and one very big thing - leadership.

"He has versatility on both ends of the floor," Kalland said. "I'd further punctuate that with a term I'm big on - non-statistical contributions. A tip here. Checking with a teammate where they're supposed to be. He's a natural leader."

"It's pretty cliché' to say that he's a winner," said Kershaw, "but the stats really reflect that from an efficiency standpoint. When you add in points, rebounds and assists, his player efficiency rating is among the tops in the league. He's vital to our success, and we're a different team when he's on the floor."

While his coaches praise his talents and intangibles, Hanson is quick to offer praise right back. He credits the Carleton system for putting him and his teammates in positions to be successful and maximize their talents. He said his role within the game plan allows him to affect so many different areas of the game.

"We have a good system in place," he said. "You have to do a little bit of everything. You have to pass the ball and limit turnovers. We've had a very balanced team, so I've had different opportunities available to me from game to game."

The main reason for going to college is to get an education, and for Hanson that education has extended from the classroom to the court. He said the area he's grown the most during his time at Carleton is in the mental side of the game. He's learned to think critically on the court, and it's aided his development as a player.

"Coach Kalland and our program require you to think about defense and the offensive lanes, cutting, all the mental aspects," Hanson said. "I didn't have as much exposure to that. I've become a smarter player. Even as injury has kind of made things physically tough at times, you can still grow mentally as a player every day."

"When we're talking about strategy, his eyes are with you syllable for syllable," Kalland added. "That's how you grow. There's less thinking with him now because it's all become habit. You want all players to get to that instinctive phase. He's there, and he's a day-to-day role model for the other guys in our program."

The injury bug has bit again during Hanson's senior season. He's currently working through an ankle injury that caused him to miss a big game against St. Thomas. However, Carleton is currently 5-5 overall and 3-2 in conference play, tied for fifth place and in the thick of the hunt for a MIAC Playoff bid. The two conference losses have come on the road at the first-place Tommies with Hanson watching from the bench, and at second-place St. Olaf, so hopes are high in Northfield for the remainder of the season.

Hanson's stats look strikingly similar - if not better - to what he's been doing throughout his career. He's averaging a double-double with 13.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. He's also averaging 4.1 assists per game and is shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and an improved 78.6 percent from the line. He leads the MIAC in rebounding and ranks sixth in field goal percentage and minutes, eighth in scoring and ninth in assists. On Dec. 2, Hanson was named the MIAC Men's Basketball Athlete-of-the-Week after averaging 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists over a three-game stretch.

Taylor Hanson, Men's Basketball, ActionBEYOND BASKETBALL

As impressive as Hanson's Carleton career has been on the court, it's been equally impressive off it. He's flourished academically despite the school's rigorous demands. He's studied abroad and so excelled at an internship last summer that he already has a full-time job waiting for him once he graduates in June.

"He's done really well," Kalland said of his star senior. "He hasn't just been really good for basketball here. It's been a two-way thing, and he's brought a lot to our campus community. He's one of the leaders in the econ department. He's already signed with a firm. Carleton is very selective, and he's right at the top of his class."

As part of his academic experience, Hanson spent 10 weeks in Cambridge, England, during the summer of 2012 for an economic study abroad program. Hanson and his classmates went to class and studied during the week, and were allowed to travel throughout Europe on the weekends. That also happened to intersect with nearby London hosting the Summer Olympics, making the trip even more unforgettable.

"That was one of the highlights of my college experience," Hanson said of his study abroad opportunity. "Every weekend we'd travel to a different country in Europe, and the Olympics were in London over the final two weeks. We got to go to a beach volleyball game and hang around the Olympic park. It was something I had always wanted to do."

The following summer may not have included a trip to the Olympics, but it ended up being even more beneficial for Hanson's immediate future. He sent his resume' around to a number of companies and firms, and landed an 11-week internship at Green Holcomb & Fisher, an investment bank in downtown Minneapolis. In the end, Hanson's performance made it more than just an internship.

"I had a great experience there and got to see a technical background in finance," Hanson said. "It worked out well, they offered me a job."

Ever the distributor, Hanson even used his new connections to hook up a recently-graduated teammate. Scott Theisen, an All-MIAC pick last season, decided not to pursue medical school and began looking for a job, so Hanson gave him some contacts at GHF, where Theisen is now employed. Once Hanson graduates and joins the workforce, they'll get to resume their relationship as teammates on an entirely different court. Both will work as analysts for the investment bank, working primarily in sell-side mergers and acquisitions.

FINISHING STRONG

With a full-time job lined up, Hanson can fully focus on the task at hand, which includes finishing off his degree and concluding his career on the court in style. The ankle injury shouldn't keep him out any longer and, even if it lingers, he's learned to play through the pain. The bulk of the MIAC season remains and there is much to be determined, and Hanson and his coaches are excited for the Knights' prospects the rest of the way.

"I think we're continuing to improve, and our freshmen are coming along," Kalland said. "We're winning some close games. We're hoping to hang in there and be a Playoff team and be playing our best basketball at the end of the season."

Though the 2013-14 Knights are relatively young and putting freshmen into some big spots, having a senior leader and role model like Hanson has helped the team grow up ahead of schedule, and could accelerate their development even quicker throughout the season.

"We have five freshmen this year," said Kershaw, "and for those guys to have someone like Taylor who they can emulate, he's just such a great role model. He's an absolute warrior on the basketball court."

Regardless of how the season transpires, it will mark the end of an incredible journey. Hanson's trip has taken him to the East coast and back, through a serious injury, to England and an internship with countless opportunities for learning and growth along the way. No matter how many points he scores or how many games Carleton wins, Hanson will leave college with countless memories, lessons learned, and the belief that he can handle anything that comes his way.

"In Connecticut, I learned I could make it on my own," Hanson said. "I didn't know anyone. I don't have any family on the East coast. I never really came back to visit, and I was able to survive on my own. Going through injuries, even though it looks bleak I learned it will get better and you can get back to where you were. Perseverance is the main thing I've learned in my college experience."

But Hanson's journey hasn't just been self-beneficial. Just ask his coaches, teammates, professors, family and friends. While everything he's experienced has impacted Hanson, he's also made quite an impact along the way.

"Of the kids who have graced our program in my 30 years," said Kalland, "he's right at the top."