Aug. 28, 2009
The Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, catches up with forward Taylor King as he looks ahead to his first game action in a Wildcat uniform in 2009-10.
In the noise of Villanova's march to the NCAA Final Four in 2008-09 there was a small coincidence that sneaked by virtually unnoticed. It was a footnote really, to all but a handful of people who had lived Taylor King's rise from California prep sensation to major college basketball.
Not the least among those was the man himself.
"When I saw the brackets come out," King says with a smile, "I was like, `wow, that's interesting.'"
To the country, a bracket featuring Villanova, UCLA and Duke was worth following. To King, it represented an ironic convergence of the three programs he had envisioned himself a part of at different points in his athletic rise. As a burgeoning high school standout at Santa Ana Mater Dei High School, he had once given a verbal commitment to attend college in Westwood. He later re-opened his recruitment, ultimately choosing to become a Blue Devil after considering UCLA and Villanova. And then, when he decided to transfer, it was to become a Wildcat.
It was an ironic twist, for sure, but not much more. For one thing, as a transfer in his redshirt campaign King could not be in uniform for those encounters. His contributions to what turned out to be clear victories for the `Cats - they won the pair of games by a combined 43 points to set up the Elite Eight meeting with Pittsburgh - were limited to helping his mates tune up on the practice floor.
Beyond that, the level of King's commitment to Villanova in his relatively short time on campus has been such that it's hard for folks around the program to even recall a time when he wasn't a committed `Cat. Since giving the nod to head coach Jay Wright in the spring of 2008, he has been a living, breathing example of the term "all in."
"Taylor has embraced it all," says Wright."
When he came to Villanova, King understood that 2008-09 would be unlike any year he had ever known. The 6-6 native of Southern California who honed his game through long hours on the court to become one of the most celebrated prep players in his state's history would operate mostly in the shadows. On game nights at the Pavilion, he was decked out in suit and tie on the bench. Since the NCAA rules do not permit transfer athletes to travel with the team in their redshirt year, he typically watched road games on TV from his dorm room.
"It had its ups and it had its downs," King says now. "The ups were getting to be in here and work out every day. We made it to the Final Four. The downs were obviously not being able to travel with the team. You don't feel like you're as much a part of the road wins then.
"It wasn't easy watching my team out there knowing that there was nothing I could do to help them."
King found constructive outlets for his energy. Whether on the bench, in the stands or watching at home, he was an animated cheerleader for his teammates.
"I just wanted to give a boost to the team in any way I possibly could," he explains. "If my job was to play (the role of) the best player on the other team in practice, that's great. If it was me cheering on the team as loudly as I could, I was happy to do it. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help the team win."
King was determined not to squander the year either. When his teammates had to be concerned about preserving their energy and strength through the BIG EAST grind in January and February, he faced no such restrictions. With the help of strength coach Lon Record he worked diligently to re-shape his frame, dropping 20 pounds in the process.
"I think sometimes guys who redshirt look at it like it's an off-year," he says. "I didn't do that. I embraced it. Obviously, I couldn't play and contribute as much on the court as I would like. So off the court I wanted to do what I could to help. I worked out all the time, went to film sessions and really studied the terminology and what the coaches like to do.
"It was interesting."
It also didn't hurt that he had a deep well of support. That starts with his parents and sisters at home in Huntington Beach, Cal., and continues with his teammates and coaches at Villanova. King is also quick to acknowledge the bond he shares with his "other" local family, that of Wildcat radio analyst and director of athletic development Whitey Rigsby, his wife Becky, and their sons and daughters. That connection played a part in King's early interest in Villanova - Becky Rigsby's brother is a neighbor and close family friend of the Kings - and helped sustain him as he acclimated himself to the area.
"I had a lot of support here from Whitey and his whole family and his extended family," King states. "They were a huge part of my year sitting out. My family at home is a big part of that too - my parents, my sisters. It would have been a difficult year if I hadn't had all the support I received and that includes Coach Wright, my teammates and the staff."
King concedes his mind has flashed forward to Hoops Mania and, beyond that, to his first opportunity to play before the sellout crowd in the Pavilion. It's been awhile since the roar of the crowd has been for him but there's a lot of gritty work between then and now. The first priority is carving a niche for himself on a young but talented roster.
"We have a large freshman class and they're all very good," notes King. "They can all help us right away. Scottie is a great leader and our senior captain. We have guys who have played in big games - Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, `Tone (Antonio Pena) - and know what to do. I think they're going lead by example. What I'm going to try and do is follow their lead. That means defend, rebound and play together.
"Whatever coach wants, that's what I'm going to do."
It was offensive productivity that first brought King to attention and there is no doubting his skill in that department. He already has a 27-point game to his credit during the year at Duke and his 3-point shooting gives the `Cats another weapon from deep. But in his season of toil King worked hard to enhance the rest of his game. One area where he might be able to make an immediate impact is on the glass, where he brings long arms and a nose for the ball. That could be important as Wright looks to replace leading rebounder Dante Cunningham and fellow forwards Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark.
"We have a new big guy in Mouph (Yarou) and `Tone (Pena) and they'll be our primary rebounders but you can't just rebound with two guys," King states. "I'm 6-7 with long arms so I think I can definitely get in on the offensive and defensive rebounds."
But in his long apprenticeship King has recognized the essence of what the program he has already poured his soul into boils down to.
"It's about putting five basketball players out there playing basketball together," he says. "That's what Coach (Wright) wants - he wants us to be a like a fist on the floor with five guys who know how to play, have good instincts, play hard and play together. Those five guys are going to play. I'm just trying to make myself one of those five."
After months of waiting, the opportunity is now his.