Funk opens eyes with stellar senior season

St. Joe’s played its final regular season game of the season on Saturday, winning on the road at Duquesne. It’s been an injury-plagued season for the Hawks, and one where depth as a result has been a major issue. It’s natural therefore to look ahead at next season, wondering about who the Hawks have in the fold to help a year from now. I spoke with Manheim Central (PA) head coach Chris Sherwood Monday night about one of those players, 6’9 forward Taylor Funk.

Taylor Funk was the first of St. Joe’s two 2017 commits, pledging to Phil Martelli and the Hawks last May.  At the time, Funk had offers from La Salle, Monmouth, Boston University, and Rider, in addition to the Hawks.  Funk played his spring and summer AAU ball with the Jersey Shore Warriors, but was forced to miss a chunk of July’s live periods with a bout of mono.  Taylor entered this season with a reputation as one of Central Pennsylvania’s top players.  As his coach will explain, he more than met the expectations that go along with such a reputation this year.

 

“I had high expectations for him this year,” Manheim Central coach Chris Sherwood began, “and somehow, I’ve been just blown away.  His demeanor and competitiveness, to be the man every single night, every single game, has been amazing to me.”

 

Every one of Manheim Central’s opponents this year had the exact same game plan, and that was to take Taylor Funk out of his rhythm and to make someone else beat them.  That’s a logical gameplan when your opponent has a 6’9 forward averaging over 24 points per game on the season.  One that scored 631 total points on the year and set a new scoring record for his high school.  “Part of me is shocked that he hasn’t gotten hurt, knock on wood,” Sherwood continued.  “He has faced every defense imaginable.  Including getting grabbed, held, and tackled.  And he has taken it.  He embraces it and expects it.  It doesn’t rattle him.  Truth is, he’s fouled just about every single possession, but he has blown me away in the way he handles it.”

Taylor has scored 30-plus points in each of his last three games, including setting a new personal scoring record dropping 35 in a playoff game last week.  So the logical question here is, ‘Did you see this coming?’

“Honestly, no, I didn’t see this coming,” Sherwood laughed.  “I didn’t see this.  Listen, I knew his ceiling was high.  Now I think it’s even higher.  In the last four months, just from November to now, he is able to score in different spots.  His mid-range game, like 12 feet, is spectacular.  He’s not playing kids his height, but he’s playing 6’6-6’7, strong kids and he wants the ball on the block.  That’s something, a year-and-a-half ago, the low block was his Kryptonite.  Now he’s developed that and I think surprised himself in that regard.”

Coach Sherwood spoke at length about the type of person that Taylor is, in addition to the type of basketball player that he is. “He had 27 of our 35 points against Hempfield in a loss,” Sherwood stated. “Instead of finger-pointing, he placed as much blame on himself for losing.  That’s just the type of kid he is.  He takes responsibility when things don’t go well.  And he just captivates others to play with him.  They’re as much a part of it as he is.”

A question that regularly pops up in recruiting circles, especially among fans, when players come from an area like Central Pennsylvania, relates to toughness.  In terms of competition at times.  In terms of physical and mental makeup at times.  Whether it’s fair or not.  And Chris Sherwood understood that, and has understood that for some time.  

“I’m a big believer that you’re wired a certain way,” he said.  “And Taylor is wired to compete and to win.  What he showed me this year was that he never backed down.  He never got bored with being great.  He wanted to be the best player and teammate he could be, and that rubbed off on his teammates.”

While Taylor Funk “sees the floor really well” and has some ball skills, it’s his ability to shoot the ball that first caught the eyes of college coaches.  At 6’9, with an ability to stretch the floor from deep and knock down jumpers from the mid-range, against, say, a zone defense, that’s where Taylor is the most college-ready.  “The one thing he can bring right now to a college court is shooting the ball,” Sherwood explained.  And the numbers back up his coach’s statement.

Taylor connected on 61 three-pointers this year.  In his four-year high school career, he drained 226 threes.  He is a career 70% free throw shooter.  A number to look at with Taylor too, is his free throw shooting volume.  As a freshman, he shot 36 free throws.  As a sophomore, 43.  Then, as a junior, 124, and this year, as a senior, 138.  That number encapsulates how his game has grown.  As Taylor has progressed and developed from a strictly-perimeter player into one who can play on the block and also create some off the bounce, he has earned more trips to the line.  This year, he got there over five times a game.

Injuries to this year’s Hawk team certainly skew this fact, but the fact remains that only one Hawk player this year hit over 40 threes this season, and that player, Charlie Brown, set a new St. Joe’s three-point shooting record with 67.  St. Joe’s desperately needs help in the perimeter shooting department, and as Chris Sherwood said, that is one area that Taylor Funk is most ready to step in and help in.

Manheim Central begins District Playoffs this Friday night against East Stroudsburg North. That 5A State Tournament game will take place at Pleasant Valley High School in Boarheadsville, Pennsylvania.  “They’re the District 11 champs,” Sherwood explained. “They’re a great team at penetrating.  We’ll have our hands full but are looking forward to it.  They’re really quick and we’re not all that used to that style of play, but I think there are some things we can do.”  The winner of that game will play the winner of West Scranton and Spring Grove.  Spring Grove has 2017 Michigan commit Eli Brooks.  If Manheim Central and Spring Grove would square off, it would be a rematch of a game two weeks ago that Spring Grove won despite Funk pouring in 32 points.

Taylor Funk’s play this season has caught the eyes of many, starting with his head coach.  With a ceiling that continues to get raised, an ability to score at all three levels, and standing a legitimate 6’9, there are things there for St. Joe’s coaches and fans to be excited about. He will bring his toughness, competitive nature, and shooting stroke to Hawk Hill next season.


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