In the Boys’ Sweet 16 on Wednesday, the Pleasure Ridge Park basketball team probably will try to continue what has been a winning strategy for a couple of the high school’s sports teams this year: Get Taywan Taylor the ball.
Just as he was as a wide receiver for the Class 6-A state runner-up football team, the senior guard is the leading scorer and an emotional leader for the Sixth Region champion basketball team, which will face Holmes at 1:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena.
“He’s had a special senior year, hasn’t he?” PRP basketball coach Dale Mabrey said. “For something like that to happen to a young man, that’s lifelong memories.”
Mabrey calls the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Taylor “a warrior” because of his physical, athletic play and tendency to rise to the occasion in both sports. By leading two teams on deep playoff runs, he has emerged as one of the city’s — if not the state’s — best two-sport athletes.
“I felt like I’ve been under the radar in football and basketball, but I didn’t let that stuff get to me,” Taylor said. “I just go out and play hard and do what I can to help my teams win.”
His explosiveness on the football field helped him surpass 20 touchdowns for PRP (14-1) and earn a scholarship from Western Kentucky University coach Bobby Petrino.
His quickness and aggressiveness on the basketball court have made him the Panthers’ leader in points (15.2) and steals (3.3) per game, and he is third in rebounding (4.7).
Taylor’s athletic success and polite demeanor have made him a favorite around the halls of his school. His classmates, teammates, coaches and teachers are all fond of him.
“He’s kind of been Mr. PRP his senior year,” football coach Jason Hiser said. “Everybody can tell you who he is.”
In an age when most high-level prep athletes focus on one sport, Taylor has never considered picking one sport he loves over the other. He was always going to do both.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Hiser said. “To have the football season he had and then to top it off with a college scholarship, and now he’s in the Sweet 16? … Me and my other football coaches are just so happy for him. It’s a testament to how hard he’s worked the last four years, and everything has fallen into place for him. It’s been really excited to watch him this year as his football coach and as a fan in the basketball stands.”
PRP is 25-7 and No. 5 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, but the Panthers are a bit of a surprise participant in the Sweet 16.
“I’m really determined (this week),” Taylor said. “None of us from PRP has been highly rated this season. Nobody had us going to the state tournament. … To get a chance to play at a high level and get noticed and get recognized, and to show I’m one of the top players in the tournament and help my teammates play well … really motivates me.
Hiser was part of the big crowd who watched Taylor steal the show in the second half of Saturday’s 53-44 victory over archrival Butler in the Sixth Region Tournament final. It was Taylor’s birthday, and on the day he turned 18, he was a man.
He scored 17 of his game-high 19 points after halftime and made a series of crucial defensive plays to bust up Butler’s attempt to rally. He also was the leading scorer in PRP’s regional semifinal upset of Bullitt East, which had beaten the Panthers in the regional final in 2011 and ’12.
“He’s just so deceptive, so strong and so quick,” Mabrey said. “He’s just an athlete deluxe.”
Taylor said playing football has made him a better, more physical basketball player. He’s an aggressive dribble penetrator and transition player, and he’s a menace slipping into passing lanes on defense.
“Not many people (who play basketball) have that strength that you gain from football, helping you get off contact and drawing fouls and finishing at the rim,” he said. “It helps a lot.”
Mabrey said Taylor fell right in synch with the Panthers as soon as he joined practice the week after a postseason football all-star game, and the coach believes this group has been one of his most improved from start to finish.
Along the way, Western Kentucky’s basketball coaches have told members of Mabrey’s staff that they would be interested in Taylor trying to walk on to their team.
“I’m telling you, he could play for them,” Mabrey said.
But Taylor has yet to speak with Petrino about basketball and knows playing two sports in college would be an immense challenge. He’ll wait until after this season to decide whether he wants to.
Right now his focus is on Holmes and the week ahead at Rupp.
“That’s a dream that you want to go to State in two sports,” Taylor said. “I’m living it right now, so I’m going to go there and give it my all and give my team the best opportunity to get it.”