Published November 08, 2013
GRINNELL, Iowa – It took 138 points for the college basketball world to finally notice Jack Taylor.
A year removed from the most prolific scoring binge in NCAA history, Taylor is eager to cast aside any lingering doubts — about his health, his skills and even the way he broke the record — and let the nation know that he's no novelty act.
Taylor became an instant celebrity last Nov. 20 when he scored 138 points for Division III Grinnell College of Iowa in a 179-104 win over Faith Baptist Bible College. The effort earned Taylor kudos from LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, the nickname "Mr. 138" and derision from those who branded him a ball hog.
Taylor's chance to build off his record-setting performance was cut short by a broken right wrist just 12 games into last season. He's healthy now, and determined to lead the nation in scoring and his team into the NCAA tournament.
"I want to show people that it really wasn't a fluke that I scored 138. That it wasn't just a one-time thing but that I can put up some big numbers again, and against good opponents," Taylor said.
Until that fateful night, Taylor had been so easy to overlook.
Taylor grew up on an 80-acre farm in Black River Falls in rural Wisconsin, the son of teacher's aide Elizabeth Taylor — known as "Lulu" as to avoid confusion with the movie star — and Jack, who operates heavy equipment. Taylor was the only boy in a house with three sisters; Cassandra, Tiffany and Jennifer, and his father's busy work schedule meant that Jack had more than his fair share of the chores.
He'd happily do them all if the reward was basketball.
"In the 7th or 8th grade, he finally looked and me and said 'You know what? You don't need to nag me, Mom. Just ask me if I want to play basketball. I will get up and do any chore you ask,'" Lulu Taylor said. "I said, 'OK. Now I know how to work you.'"
Lulu bought a backboard and a hoop at a rummage sale, and Jack's dad stuck them on a pole lying around the farm. It was there — and on a rim hung up in the barn when the snow got too deep — that Jack became a scorer. He used a chair as a dummy defender and spent countless hours working on his offense. He'd dribble to the wings, use a spin move to create space for a 3 or beat the chair with a crossover for a jumper.
Always the focus on honing shots Taylor would have to make in real games.
"Having no brother, I was often by myself and basketball is a game where all you need is a hoop and a ball. My options were either playing Barbies with them or going out and playing basketball," Taylor said.
The 5-foot-10 Taylor blossomed into a two-time honorable-mention All-State pick. But most Division I coaches just saw a short, skinny kid from a small town. Taylor thought he could be an impact player in college and Grinnell coach David N. Arseneault agreed with him.
The Division III Pioneers run the nation's quickest offensive schemes. They focus on shooting within 12 seconds on every possession and have won multiple team and individual national scoring marks.
To Arseneault, Taylor wasn't an undersized, shoot-first point guard. He was a potential program-defining talent and his top recruiting target for years.
"He was a scoring machine," Arseneault said. "His quickness and his ability to create his own shot, those are the things that make guards in the Grinnell system really good."
Taylor got some feelers from Division I schools, mostly from Ivy League teams like Columbia that were intrigued in part by his strong academic resume. But Taylor was so determined to make it as a Division I player that he chose to play at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. Nine games into his prep school career, Taylor tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee.
He was done for the season, and Division I coaches soon stopped calling.
"It was really tough. I think it was the hardest time of my life thus far, just because you put so much hope into it," said Taylor, who added that the experience strengthened his religious faith. "All your hopes are just shattered."
Taylor moved on to Wisconsin-LaCrosse once is knee got healthy. But after one mediocre season that followed a redshirt year, Taylor was finally ready to take a chance on Grinnell's entertaining but unusual system.
Arseneault was thrilled to finally land the player he was convinced could be the program's seventh national scoring champion.
But Taylor was also the new guy, and though he's self-assured he's also soft-spoken. Teammate and close friend Cody Olson describes him as "quiet by choice."
It was Taylor's poise in the face of unprecedented media attention and scrutiny that revealed his true character to his teammates. Some believed that Taylor had alienated his new teammates by shooting 108 times. But it was actually part of a plan to break Taylor out of a slump, and the whole team had embraced it before the game.
Teammates were also moved by how humble Taylor was about what he had done — and how quickly he praised them for his historic night.
"That really brought him out of his shell. He's a quiet guy. Super nice, but quiet," teammate Patrick Maher said. "That 138 really brought him on to a whole other level as a leader."
The team's hope that Taylor's historic night would be a spring board to bigger things ended when Taylor drove into a defender, lost control in mid-air and heard a crunch from his right wrist in early January.
The Pioneers, who started 9-2 with Taylor averaging 38.6 points a game, finished 17-6. He's healed up now, after an offseason that included throwing out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game and being honored on the floor of the Iowa Legislature.
The Pioneers will lean on Taylor more than ever this winter after losing eight seniors, but Taylor knows that approaching 138 points in a game again is highly unlikely.
He's fine with that — and with the idea that he'll likely always be known as "Mr. 138."
"Obviously I won't be able to do anything as big as that again, just because I'm a marked man now," Taylor said. "I'm not playing the game for that. I'm not seeking to be on 'SportsCenter' again. I play because I love it."
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