LaDarius Taylor is arguably the best player on the City High boys basketball team.
A lean and athletic 6-foot-1 senior guard, Taylor leads his team in scoring with many of his points coming on explosive drives to the basket. He excels at playing in-your-face defense. And he never stops hustling and competing.
But those close to him say Taylor performs even better off the court.
“I would say that in my four years here at City High, LaDarius stands out as a young man of excellent character and is just a positive, kind person,” City High Principal John Bacon said. “I think about Magic Johnson was famous for always having that big smile on his face. And that is what I think about when I see LaDarius. He just flashes this big smile and he just has kind of a joy for life, I think. He’s an absolute treasure to be around.”
Bacon has a special appreciation for his senior class because those students started at City at the same he did in 2010. Bacon said Taylor was polite, upbeat and always willing to help others when he came to City as a freshman, and nothing has changed.
“I don’t mean to put him on a pedestal, he’s human and I’m sure he has his moments,” Bacon said. “But that’s what I think is so remarkable is that he really finds a way to be very positive when interacting with others. And he is genuinely happy for the success of others. He’s always considerate. He’ll ask me how I’m doing. He’ll ask me about my family. He’s a really neat young man.”
Taylor’s career as a Little Hawk basketball player is almost over. City (10-11) is preparing to face the winner of Tuesday’s playoff game between Ottumwa and Newton on Friday in a Class 4A district semifinal at City. The Little Hawks received a bye in the first round.
“I’m really excited to start a new chapter, but you hate to see this high school year just blowing by so fast,” said Taylor, who is leaning toward playing basketball at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids next season.
Whatever Taylor decides to do after high school, he’ll do it with a smile on his face and with a positive attitude.
“I just think me smiling puts a smile on somebody else’s face and helps them stay positive,” Taylor said. “Because of my motivation, I just think about what it takes to really be a great person every day.”
Taylor credits his parents for raising him the right way in what he described as humble beginnings.
“My parents raised me and taught me to smile all the time,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s life changed dramatically when he moved with his family from Chicago to Iowa City at the age of 5. His family was in search of a better life and that’s what Taylor found, thanks in large part to basketball.
“I was definitely scared (when I moved here),” said Taylor, who is the second oldest of four children. “It took me until about sixth-grade year. I think that’s really when my basketball game started elevating and people started noticing me and being friendly. I think that’s really when it took off right there.”
The hiring of Don Showalter as the City High boys basketball coach before the start of last season also has had a positive impact on Taylor’s life. Showalter brought with him a wealth of coaching experience at the high school level, where he had spent two decades coaching at Mid-Prairie, and with USA Basketball.
“He’s just really been pouring his heart out to us and showing us different ways that he’s learned to win,” Taylor said about Showalter. “Definitely, it’s a process.”
Showalter credits Taylor’s upbringing for helping to steer Taylor in the right direction. But Showalter also believes that Taylor deserves credit for making the right choices in life at a time when temptations and distractions are high.
“Obviously, it started at home, and I think it shows at school and on the court,” Showalter said. “I think he’s just had some good upbringing, fortunately, for him. But he’s also bought into the fact that’s the way he needs to live his life.
“Sometimes, you think it’s a majority of the kids who can do that, but it’s really a hard situation, especially in high school. You can talk the talk, but let’s walk the walk.”
Showalter knew Taylor was special shortly after meeting him for the first time.
“He took coaching really easy,” Showalter said. “He’s always wanted to learn. He’s a gym rat. He’s very focused.
“So I think all those things together in addition to you could just tell that his teammates liked him and he was a good part of the team from the standpoint of just being there for his teammates when they needed him.”
Junior guard Emmanual Hooper smiles at the mention of Taylor’s name, who he calls LT. Hooper said it’s always fun being around Taylor on and off the court.
“He’s always in a good mood,” Hooper said. “Even when we’re losing he’s not going to be a bad sport. He’s real funny. He’s always smiling. You never see LT down.”
For Taylor, being in a good mood just comes naturally.
“That’s just part of who I am,” he said. “I’m just really a caring person and I love to see how people are doing and try to make people happy.”
Taylor is grateful for his time at City High and for his friendship with Bacon. He considers Bacon one of the biggest influences in his life and credits the principal for showing him how to treat people the right way, how to live life to its fullest and how to deal with adversity, which is part of the high school experience.
“He started here when I came here, so he’s been watching since I was a freshman playing basketball,” Taylor said. “And he just thought I was a really good person.
“And I was just looking at him and seeing how he stayed positive through all the adversity that has happened at City. I just took that in and that kind of fueled me.”
Bacon has mixed emotions as graduation draws near for Taylor and the senior class at City.
“This senior class is very special to me because it’s the first class for me at City High that I’ve been with all the way through,” Bacon said. “It just goes by in the blink of an eye. And a young man like LaDarius, I’m going to miss very, very much.”