Stepinac's Taylor is used to proving himself
By KEVIN DEVANEY JR.
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: December 23, 2007)
In the center of a crowded and loud Stepinac gym Wednesday afternoon stood the planet's most frustrated 30-points-per-game scorer.
Tony Taylor might have looked at ease as he went through a round of a hundred jump shots. But beneath the serene look of eyeglasses and a long-sleeve T-shirt was a perfectionist still steaming over the previous day's game, furiously searching for answers.
Taylor demands more of himself than most players do, which is how you must be when you're 5-foot-11 and have a Division I men's basketball scholarship. The George Washington-bound guard shot 5 for 18 in a win at Fordham Prep on Tuesday, his first off game in what's started off as a brilliant senior season.
"I've set high expectations for myself," said Taylor, who averaged 29.8 points, seven rebounds and seven assists through five games. "I know I can play a lot better than I have, and that's why I really beat myself up all the time."
Life is supposed to get easier once you sign a Division I scholarship. But Taylor, a player who many doubted would ever reach that level, has purposely made it tougher on himself.
Wednesday afternoon was a perfect example. What Taylor forgets is how he scored 21 points against Fordham Prep - 18 coming in the final 11 minutes, turning a three-point lead into a 15-point win.
On Wednesday night, playing in front of George Washington coach Karl Hobbs, Taylor hit seven 3-pointers and scored 34 points against St. Agnes as the Crusaders improved to 4-1.
Those, however, aren't details Taylor gets too hung up on, which is the reason he's gotten this good.
"I don't think it's pressure. I just think Tony is a guy who demands excellence from himself," Hobbs said Friday. "I could see it the other night. He's hard on himself and he expects to play the perfect basketball game. That's a great thing to have within yourself."
"Everyone knows who he is now and where he's going," Stepinac senior forward Rashaad Slowley said. "People are putting pressure on him - the opposing defenses, the refs, the fans, everyone. But I think Tony understands it."
Taylor is used to proving himself. He grew up in Tarrytown, and when he was 12, he told his father, Tony Sr., that he wanted to play Division I basketball. As he got older, those aspirations seemed unattainable. He simply was not big enough.
While other local names began popping up on the Division I radar, Taylor lurked. Always blessed with ball-handling skills and good court vision, he's developed his perimeter game the past two years. He's also gotten taller and, most important, stronger.
"Last year I was a lot smaller than I am now," said Taylor, who's gone from 5-9, 150 pounds at the start of last season to 5-11, 170. "People didn't think I was strong enough to play with the guards in Division I. It's always hard being a guard. There are so few big men and so many more guards. Everyone's competing for the same spot."
Taylor's rise from rail-thin prospect to Atlantic 10 prize began in his sophomore year. He started the season on the junior varsity. When the varsity team lingered around .500 and started having chemistry issues, coach Tim Philp wanted to shield Taylor from that atmosphere.
It got to a point, however, where Taylor was just too good. Philp gambled, not only promoting Taylor to the varsity but also inserting him in the starting lineup.
"We had too many good players on that (varsity) team and only one basketball," Philp said. "I didn't want to move him up because of those problems. But when I did, he turned the team around."
Taylor's quiet and unselfish nature breathed life into a locker room cluttered with egos. He averaged 12.8 points and seven assists as Stepinac went 10-7 with him on the floor. Melquan Bolding was the star, but it was very much Taylor's team.
It was at the Slam Dunk tournament last year where he really began to gain recognition. Nearly 3,000 fans packed the Westchester County Center to watch Stepinac vs. Peekskill, which was billed as "Mookie Jones vs. Melquan Bolding."
Taylor quietly stole the marquee from both. He scored a tournament-record 32 points, including all 13 of his team's points in the third quarter, and was 14 for 14 at the foul line.
"Tony came out in the second half and totally stole the show," Philp said. "All the hype coming in was about those two guys, and Tony stole it from under their noses. I think right then, people in Westchester said, 'Wow, look at this kid.' "
Taylor averaged 22 points, 6.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, and those numbers were improved through the first five games this year.
It's a product of days like Wednesday, when he confines himself to the gym with a basketball; days that have turned him into the player few believed he'd ever become.
"Tony is goal-oriented and wants to be a special player," Hobbs said. "I think those are things that have really intrigued us and really made us say we want to go after this guy. He has a chance to be a terrific basketball player for us."
Reach Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Varsity Insider blog at