For three quarters of Taylor Brown's Alta High School basketball contest against rival Hillcrest High School, I had the pleasure of watching a very competitive game against two very hungry teams. In the fourth quarter, I had the pleasure of seeing a legitimate D-1 prospect come to life.
According to Alta's basketball program, Taylor is a 6'6'', 195 lb forward. Per the school's website, Taylor is also the Vice President of his class. By reputation, he is known as a deadly outside shooter that was an early riser into Varsity basketball within the state of Utah. His high school is recognized for having one of the better programs around, and as recently as 2003 took home a state title in hoops.
One thing working to Taylor's advantage in developing as a prospect is that he has been blessed to play alongside 6'8'' senior center Tyson Koehler. Koehler is a legitimate back to the basket scorer and anchor in the middle, providing Taylor the opportunity to play offensively along the wings and defensively in whichever ways his coach chooses to employ his length. Given his frame and height, Taylor certainly projects to be a SG/SF in college and it is to his advantage to be on a team with a player that affords him the opportunity to play his natural positions, instead of being forced into a big man's role due to being one of the taller players on the team.
As mentioned above, Brown didn't really come alive until the last quarter. He may fall into the familiar trap where a player with above average physical gifts and skills sleep walks until the game is on the line. I was a bit surprised to see that he didn't have a bit more intensity to start the game as a particularly friendly fan informed me that Hillcrest and Alta have a competitive rivalry, and that this particular game had conference title implications as well as being a factor in the seeding for the state tournament.
That said, there were some interesting things that happened in those three quarters. The first offensive set of the game was run to get Taylor an open look at a three. Unfortunately, he hesitated a bit on the shot and put up a brick. To his credit, he redeemed shortly thereafter himself by swishing a three off a curl move in the corner on an inbounds play. In warm-ups he favored the corners, so seeing the easy make wasn't surprising. In the second quarter, he made a heads up cut to the basket during a teammates' drive, made a nice catch in traffic, and calmly sank both free throws after being fouled. Aside from a couple of nice feeds from the wing into Koehler in the post, that was about all there was to see offensively in those three quarters.
Defensively, Taylor was employed in a couple of interesting ways. Alta started the game in a 2-3 zone, with Taylor manning the baseline corner to the left of Koehler. Hillcrest's hot shooting and smooth ballhandlers (special mention here to Hillcrest's #30, who played a great floor game) forced Alta out of their 2-3 zone and interestingly into a 3-2 zone, with Taylor using his height at the middle position up top to disrupt Hillcrest's offensive flow. Unfortunately, Taylor at this point exhibits very little ability on the defensive end of the floor, and even less awareness as to how he fits into what the team is trying to accomplish defensively. Two of the lowlights involved Taylor fouling a player 35 feet from the basket, and actually at one point turning his back on his man to trot to the foul line to make sure he was in the right position on the floor, and then turning back around to pick up the ballhandler. On the few occasions where Alta went man to man, Taylor also wasn't much of a factor and was burned for a couple of scores. Defensively, he needs a ton of work.
After those three quarters of uninspiring play from a supposed D-1 prospect and possible Syracuse target, I started to wonder what the big deal was. Thankfully, a transformation occurred in Taylor and he took over the 4 th quarter. Alta and Hillcrest had been playing back and forth without any real impact from Taylor. With his team down by three, Brown quickly came around a screen and swished a huge fading three pointer to tie it up. After a serious, authoritative "above-the-rim" rebound, Taylor again hit another three coming off of a screen. Suddenly, Taylor was skying for rebounds and blocks and asserting himself on the offensive end of the floor. Despite his efforts, Hillcrest led by two with 15 seconds left and had their best player on the line. The Hillcrest player missed, and after a crazy scrum for the loose ball, Taylor came up with it and was fouled and sent to the line with the chance to tie the game.
Obviously, to this point Taylor had risen to the occasion in the clutch to make two huge threes and grab several eye popping rebounds. Plays of that type can utilize the adrenaline and energy in a player's body to positive effect, but calmly making free throws at the end of a game is a different physical experience altogether. I was curious to see if Taylor would have the athletic maturity to make the adjustment.
He easily made both.
The game went into overtime where Alta eventually lost. In OT, Alta force fed the ball into Koehler, hoping to make him a hero for the senior's last night on his home floor. Hillcrest's #30 just wouldn't quit and made too many gritty plays, including a filthy driving lay up to put Hillcrest ahead with 3 seconds left. For a high school basketball game, it couldn't have produced a more exciting outcome, especially for the student at half time that drilled one from half court to win free pizza.
Unofficially, I had Taylor shooting 3 of 6 from three and 4 for 4 from the line for 13 points, with 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. As you can see, all of his points came either from the line or from deep, and I suspect by the way he plays that this isn't unusual. He did attempt to post up 3 or 4 times, but his guard ignored him each time he tried. He also does not look to put the ball on the floor. His team plays a pretty crisp offense with very quick ball movement, but his hesitancy to dribble is not a function of that offense. He has room to grow offensively as a scorer, but he is a shooter. It looked like in the first half his shot was a bit tight and he may have been aiming, because his shots at the end looked much smoother and had better results. Mechanically, his shot looks solid.
Defensively, he needs a lot of work, so much so that he will probably need some time to develop before becoming a real contributor to wherever he goes. Even in a high school game, he's a liability. The rebounds he grabs now come more from his athletic ability than technique, and even though he projectsas a big guard or small forward and probably won't be relied on in college for many rebounds, he could also improve in this area.
In the Alta basketball program, Taylor lists BYU as where he wants to go to college. If this is true, it may be difficult to lure him away from a dream school that is a mere 30 minutes away from his home. It also says in the program that if Taylor could have a personalized license plate, it would say "YNKEELVR." Might Taylor's love for the pinstripes be enough to bring him to a school in NY? If it is, we may just be lucky enough to see a clutch performer in Orange.