All-Around Game

Nov. 24, 2008

He is just a good athlete.

Since high school, Jermaine Taylor heard that knock about his game over and over again. Opposing coaches would tell it to their players. Broadcasters would mention the opinion during televised games. His own coaches would try to motivate him by saying the line.

Jermaine Taylor is not a complete player, he just hits threes and dunks.

After developing into one of the premier shooting guards in the nation a year ago, Taylor proved the doubters wrong. In 2008-09, the senior expects opponents, members of the media and even his own coaches to recognize him as a complete player.

Prior to last season, it was easy to stereotype Taylor. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Taylor looks like an athlete. His above-the-rim style of play, which features a bevy of dunks each game, only added to the label. Taylor's love of shooting from behind-the-arc whether he was open or not did not help either.

Despite averaging 12.7 points as UCF's sixth man as a sophomore, Taylor felt like he was not playing up to his potential. He realized that in order for him to succeed, and help the Knights compete in Conference USA, he needed to broaden his game.

"I was told from high school up to (last year) that all I could do was shoot threes and do layups and if I couldn't do that, then I wasn't going to score," Taylor said. "So I just went in the gym and worked on pull-up jumpers and coming off screens. I think I am real good at it now."

Real good is an understatement.

In 2007-08, Taylor connected on shots from all over the floor as he developed into one of the best players in the country. The Tavares native had one of the best campaigns in UCF history as he averaged 20.8 points. His 646 points were the most scored by a Knight since the program moved to the Division I ranks in 1984.

Taylor paced the Knights in scoring in 23 of the team's 31 games and registered 20-point performances on 20 occasions. He shined against some of the nation's premier programs, scoring 23 points against 18th-ranked Kansas State, 27 points at Nevada and 30 points versus Connecticut. Following the regular season, he earned a spot on the All-C-USA Second Team.

Taylor credits the development of his mid-range game to his success. As a result, he is happy that he is rarely told that he is just an athlete who can shoot from deep.

"That was all I ever heard. That was my game. I knew I had to change it and get better. All of summer (2007), I worked on my mid-range, trying to incorporate that into my game."

Taylor arrived at UCF in 2005 as a much-heralded freshman. He averaged 25.0 points and 11.0 rebounds as a senior at Tavares High School, earning Florida Class 3A All-State First Team honors. The Orlando Sentinel Athlete of the Year, he was also a standout football player. The wide receiver garnered interest from powerhouse programs like Florida.

He attended UCF not only because the school was close to home, but because of his family's relationship with the program. His cousin, Darryl Davis, played under head coach Kirk Speraw in the 1990s. A member of the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame, Davis is fifth all-time at UCF with 1,540 points.

Taylor saw immediate playing time as a rookie. He averaged 4.3 points in 11.7 minutes per game for Speraw in 2005-06. In high school, Taylor simply used his athleticism to score. That didn't cut it in college.

He shot 39.5 percent overall and a shockingly low 30.4 percent at the free-throw line as a freshman. He also committed 30 turnovers and dished out only 15 assists. Looking back, Taylor says that he was not mentally mature as a basketball player.

"A lot of times, I was trying to force things. Now, I let it come to me," he said. "I don't try to rush anything. I just let it happen. I used to just get it and go without seeing what is in front of me. But now I can see if there is a lane for me to drive, or see if it is a good shot."

Taylor upped his shooting percentages and his scoring as a sophomore, but it was not until last season that he fully blossomed as a college player.

Assistant coach Craig Brown, who is in his ninth season at UCF, has seen the growth in Taylor's game.

"He has improved leaps and bounds," Brown said. "He came in as a streaky scorer. His overall understanding of team play has developed. Obviously, the jump that he made from his sophomore year to his junior year was unbelievable."

There is no denying that Taylor is UCF's star on and off the floor. Last season, he garnered national attention for his scoring prowess. Prior to the start of the 2008-09 campaign, he was one of five players selected by C-USA's head coaches to the preseason all-league team.

Off the court, Taylor's face adorns the Knights' yearbook and schedule poster. He was also featured on a billboard promoting season ticket sales.

According to Taylor, he has no problem being the face of the program. "I was hoping I was going to be the star one day. When my time came, I just stepped up to the plate."

Brown believes that Taylor could show even more improvement as a senior.

"He has unlimited potential. He can have major growth still on the offensive and two to three times more (growth) on the defensive side. I think offensively, he is still just coming into his own. As far as being able to create his own shot and as far as being able to create shots for other people.

"It will all come from his awareness and understanding of things from an offensive perspective. He does a great job of coming in and watching film. I think he grew tremendously because he was able to come in and see himself and see other people and learn by watching a lot of video. He really did put in a lot of time."

Following the loss of standout guards Dave Noel and Mike O'Donnell to graduation last year, many are expecting Taylor to single-handedly carry the Knights this season. Noel and O'Donnell both provided leadership a year ago.

O'Donnell was the player who was there to encourage his teammates during tough times. He was the captain who spoke up and got everyone on the same page. On a team that includes seven true freshmen, Taylor is not that individual.

"I really just lead by example," Taylor said. "We have a lot of new people and new faces. I know that if I am going hard, they see me going hard, so they know what they should be doing. I am not really a talker."

Speraw agrees with Taylor's assessment of his leadership style.

"We can't make him feel like he has to carry the team. That's not his role. He just needs to be Jermaine Taylor and that's pretty good," Speraw said.

After last season, pretty good for Taylor refers to his overall game, not just his athletic ability.

- Doug Richards