Alumnus Jermaine Taylor is set for an NBA comeback.
In a seven year span after graduating and leaving UCF as the men’s basketball all-time leading scorer, Jermaine Taylor has faced basketball ambiguity. From being chosen 32nd overall in the 2009 NBA draft to being humbled by professional demotion with stints in the NBA Development League, Taylor’s career faced was faced with its hardest challenge when a demoralizing left knee injury. But thanks to years of mental, spiritual and physical maturity, Taylor is prepared for an NBA comeback.
In 2013, Taylor tore his ACL and meniscus just two games into the NBA D-League season with the Maine Red Claws. Generally, an injury of that nature takes about two years to recover from, but Taylor made a quick return 15 months removed from his first major injury at the pro level, finding his way back to the basketball court and eventually onto the roster of the Canterbury Rams of New Zealand. Taylor averaged 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and one steal in his time with the Rams. However, he did not live up to his reputation as a volume scorer and freak athlete, which underwhelmed many people who expected the high-flying athletic version of himself — Taylor said he just wasn’t completely healthy.
“It all started because I played in the D-League first, and then I went to New Zealand, and for the first time in my life, when I got to New Zealand, people were disappointed,” Taylor said. “Being an NBA player, hearing everything they heard about me when I go over there, even though I averaged 17 [points], they expected 30, 40. So there was talks about me not being who they thought I was going to be and that was my first time hearing that. I couldn’t blame them because I wasn’t the same; I wasn’t explosive, I wasn’t taking off dunking like I usually do.”
Taylor decided to take a year off from basketball altogether after his stint in New Zealand to work on getting his body in the best shape and condition possible.
“I changed my diet, I started eating cleaner, eating healthier,” Taylor explained. “I started working out different … smarter with my workouts, and I just started doing more — a lot of stretching, a lot of deep tissue massages.”
The 29-year-old hasn’t been alone in his journey back to the hardwood. Taylor’s 2010-11 Houston Rockets teammate and friend, New York Knicks veteran guard Courtney Lee, has been in his corner, and Lee believes that Taylor’s a more dedicated version of his old self.
“Just watching him and playing with him now, I’d say he’s more focused,” Lee said. “He’s worked on some things that ... he’s putting in the work to do that because he showcases it. And these pickup games that we’re playing, he’s working on his defense, he’s showing that he’s capable of playing in the 5-on-5 setting, playing the right way, and then also he’s getting back to his athletic self.”
Lee also highlighted that with today’s game becoming more centered on guard play, Taylor will fit right in.
“He’s put that perimeter shot in his game,” Lee said. “He’s capable of creating his own shot; he’s cable of creating for others. So that’s pretty much what the game is today, getting up and down and being able to knock down that three ball and then being able to penetrate and make plays for not only yourself but others.”
Today, Taylor is committed to the process returning and staying in the NBA. One of the primary challenges that he faced early on was simply not being patient.
“I believe that if I was able to handle that, I would still be in the NBA,” Taylor said. “When I was with the Rockets and with Sacramento, I knew I deserved to play, but I wasn’t mature enough to handle waiting my time. I’m not the type who says, ‘Hey, you got to sit back and wait your turn’, but I couldn’t do that because I could kill right now, but you guys aren’t letting me kill right now.”
In his last season with the Knights, Taylor played in 31 games averaging 26.2 points to go along with five rebounds per game. He was originally drafted by the Washington Wizards but was acquired by the Houston Rockets in a draft day trade. After a few injuries to the Rockets backcourt, he got a short opportunity to perform in a starting role. But after returning to the bench, Taylor’s impatience in dealing with the business and politics of the NBA led to a domino of events that would drive him out of the league.
“I was in Houston — they finally let me play … I was starter for four games,” Taylor said. “The first game against the Lakers, I held Kobe [Bryant] to the lowest he had all season, and then I had a career high. The next game I had like 14 [points], the game after that I had a double-double, the game after that everyone got healthy, and I went back to the bench.
“I came into practice one day and one of the player development coaches walked up to me, and he was like, ‘We had a meeting, and we think it would be best if you back off of Chase Budinger.’ When they basically told me to back off of him, it crushed me.”
Taylor eventually asked for a trade in 2010 and ultimately wound up playing for the Sacramento Kings, only to find himself on the outside looking in for many years. His cousin David Bostic has watched Taylor since they were kids, growing up with the same obstacles to hurdle on a day-to-day basis, and he believes that the lessons Taylor has learned throughout the years will make him a great role model for the game.
“He kind of took it for granted,” Bostic said. “He’s an awesome player. He finally made it to the NBA, and his rookie year, he said he kind of took it for granted.
“If you talk to him now, he’s a full-grown man, and he fully understands the business side of the NBA and the actual playing on the court side to the fullest. Now, it’s like once he gets his next shot, I guarantee he’s going to be the perfect role model for the NBA — he’s finally ready, he’s finally mature as much as I believe that he can mature.”
Taylor is also aware of the opportunity he has as a mentor to those who might be in similar circumstances.
“I believe that I’m someone who can say when someone comes to me, ‘Man, I just got cut,’ [that] hey, it’s not the end of the road, I’ve been there — look at me now.”
At the end of the day, Taylor just wants a shot at playing at the highest level of professional basketball again, and he believes that things will work in his favor.
“I know everything happens for a reason so I keep pushing. I don’t live in this world; my mind is always up here,” Taylor said as he pointed up. “So even though these GMs say this [or] that, I know who has the final say-so — that’s how I live my life ... I’m [going] to keep pushing until it’s not in my heart anymore.”
Christopher Davis is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @ChristopherDTV or email him at ChristopherD@CentralFloridaFuture.com