With a young men’s basketball team plagued by injuries coming off a 5-22 campaign, an unexpected hero will have to emerge in the form of Eric Taylor.
The 6-8 sophomore has taken on many roles this season and will need to excel in all of them in order for Cornell to stay competitive. A tri-captain, Taylor is the first sophomore ever elected to this position in the program’s 104-year history. The only returning big man without an injury, he will need to be the team’s top rebounder and the go-to guy in the frontcourt. Finally a starter, he will have to adjust to playing more minutes and being an even larger presence on the court than he was last season.
These are facts that have not escaped the Latham N.Y. native.
“It’s a different role this year. I’m the only returning big guy so more is counting on me, but I think I’m going to be in good enough shape to play more minutes and be more productive this season,” Taylor said.
Nor has it escaped head coach Steve Donahue, who praises his recruit.
“Offensively, Eric has a real knack for scoring — he surprises people with his range, he can shoot the ball from the outside. He’s one of those kids that has a great nose for the ball, and that’s hard to teach — the intangible is that he is relentless he just never gives up and refuses to quit,” he said.
Nor has it escaped his teammates, who show complete faith in Taylor’s abilities on and off the court.
“Eric is a natural leader,” explained fellow tri-captain senior Jacques Vigneualt. “He leads by example on and off the floor. He always plays hard and he is vocal when he needs to be. He will do whatever is in the best interest of the team. He is a true testament to what Cornell basketball is becoming.”
In high school, Taylor was not heavily recruited, and Donahue admits that last year, Taylor went above and beyond what was expected of him.
“He has exceeded my expectations already, and I’m really glad that he has come,” explained Donahue. “I had no idea that he was this good. You have to watch him to appreciate him.”
What a difference a year can make.
“I think Eric came in here not sure how good he could be,” explained Donahue. “Now, I’m pretty sure that he understands that he can be one of the best big men in the league. That’s a way different mindset. I think Eric Taylor is way more confident and is absolutely sure that if he plays hard every night, he can be successful against the other people in our league.”
Last year, Taylor played in 21 games, starting three. He was presented the inaugural James D. Paull II ’88 Award as the team’s top contributor off the bench.
Despite playing as a reserve, Taylor led the team and finished 11th in the Ivy League in rebounding with 5.1 rpg. He also averaged 5.5 points, led the team in field goal percentage with .510 and ranked second in blocks with 11.
Yet, after a successful freshman season, Taylor immediately got back to work.
In the offseason, Taylor concentrated on getting bigger, stronger, logging many hours in the weight room and working out on the court to improve on last year’s numbers.
And apparently, his hard work has paid off. In the team’s first game of the season this past Saturday, Taylor was by far the best player on the court, scoring a career-high 30 points. On the evening, the sophomore shot an amazing 14 of 16 from the floor. He also grabbed nine rebounds in the Red’s first win of the campaign, a 78-72 victory at Buffalo.
However, Taylor knows there are several keys for a successful season.
“Personally I have to be able to rebound the basketball. I think rebounding is going to be key and that is both individually and team-wise. Staying out of foul trouble will also be important for me.”
Although not the most athletic player on the court, Taylor says he relies on a good knowledge of the sport to help him gain the advantage.
“I think I have a pretty good understanding of the game,” he explained. “I’m not the most athletic guy out there, but I think I’m able to make up for that by just knowing how to play.”
Donahue agreed, stating that one of the reasons he recruited Taylor was because of the forward’s tenacity and hard work.
“I wanted that type of kid as I built my program,” Donahue explained. “He is a solid person, he competes, and has passion for basketball, and I want all those things to be the traits of my first couple of classes.”
Taylor’s knowledge may have come from his father who played two years at Cornell and then spent some time playing overseas.
“He got me into basketball,” Taylor said of his father’s influence. “As a younger kid, I always played baseball and football in the yard; I actually played soccer for a little bit. I was just one of those kids that was involved in a lot of different sports growing up, and I think my height pushed me towards basketball rather than anything else.”
With his height, strong leadership, and good game knowledge, he will be an invaluable asset to the program.
Archived article by Kristen Haunss