There was the pressure of living up to high expectations. There was the problem with his weight and conditioning level. And there was, as most freshmen experience, a lack of confidence in transitioning from high school to major college basketball.
All of those obstacles contributed to a frustrating rookie season for Pitt center Dante Taylor.
Now, only three months removed from the NCAA tournament loss to Xavier, those problems that dogged Taylor have all but disappeared. The baby fat is gone, replaced by a new and improved muscular frame. His confidence is sky high, and he has learned to live with the expectations that come with being a McDonald's All-American.
Taylor has been one of the most impressive players in the early going of the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds in his team's summer league opener Monday night and followed that up with 21 points and seven rebounds Wednesday.
What does it all mean? That won't be determined until the season starts in November, but Taylor at the very least has put himself in better position to succeed as a sophomore.
"You see Dante getting it," senior guard Brad Wanamaker said. "He's a hard worker. Coming in as a freshman you could see him sometimes get a little nervous. Maybe he worried too much. This summer something has been going on. Dante has been improving. He's finishing around the basket better. He's been in the weight room working hard.
"He's a very different player. After that freshman year a lot of people change. You're more mature. You know what's going on. You know the system better. His confidence is on another level right now. He's taking people off the dribble, rebounding. But he's not doing too much. He's doing what he's capable of doing and he's doing it well. I feel like Dante can have a great year for us."
Starting center Gary McGhee agrees. When McGhee and Taylor went against each other in practice last season, McGhee bullied Taylor and pushed him all over the court. That has not been the case this summer.
"You can definitely tell he got stronger," McGhee said. "Visually, you can see it. When I play against him I can tell, too. It's not the same guy I was backing down as a freshman, just putting him under the basket and scoring easy buckets. Now he's stronger. I have to go to more moves to get my shot off quicker.
"He is definitely getting better. He's getting quicker. I just like his progression from last year to this year. Hopefully, he keeps improving."
The most striking difference in the 6-foot-9 Taylor is the way he has changed his body. He reported to Pitt last summer grossly out of shape and played last season at 240 pounds. Now he is 233 with more muscle tone.
"I definitely feel a difference from when I came in," Taylor said. "I was a little heavy, not able to run the floor. I needed conditioning, to get stronger. Everyone knew that's what I had to do. I knew it. I knew I had to get it done."
Being out of shape led to what many deemed a subpar season for the player who was a star coming out of National Christian Academy in Maryland.
Taylor averaged 4.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a freshman. He only reached double figures four times and had one stretch during Big East play when he went scoreless five times in a six-game span.
"My freshman year was OK for a normal, average freshman," Taylor said. "But with the high expectations, I feel like people expected more of me, and I really didn't give them that much.
"I tried. That's all I can do is try and give my best. I had a couple of games where I didn't do anything. I just kept playing and coming back the next day."
Taylor expects to continue in his role as McGhee's backup, but he said there is a chance he could play some power forward as well. Wherever he plays, Taylor has confidence that this coming season will be much different for him than last season.
"Last year with me not being strong, it was harder for me to go in there and get position and fight for rebounds," he said. "Right now, I feel like I'm in good shape, and the sky is the limit."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.