Taylor King extended his long left arm, and snatched a rebound off the glass. He flicked a hard outlet pass to his point guard, and sprinted to fill the lane. He spotted up in a most familiar place, the three-point line. He put his hand up to let his teammates know he was open. King received the pass, sized up the shot, and let go of one of his smooth left-handed jump shots in the blink of an eye. The basketball ripped through the net with the sound that Nike made famous, 'Swoosh'.
This practice wasn't with Duke University, of course, nor was it with Villanova. King's long journey from high school royalty at Mater Dei, to tobacco road, and into the heart of the city of brotherly love, has brought him to a place many wouldn't expect. King will bring his feisty game and patented deep three-point shots to Concordia University of Irvine for the 2010-2011 season.
He's happy to be back, close to his home.
"I've played on this court since I was in third grade," he said. "I feel free playing here."
King made front-page headlines at an early age, committing to play basketball at UCLA before his freshman year of high school. He attended Mater Dei of Santa Ana, and flourished under legendary high school basketball coach Gary McKnight. After a renowned prep career, in which he amassed countless records and accolades, King ended up backing out of his commitment to the Bruins, and instead chose to play at Duke.
King, twice named the Player of the Year by both the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register, played one season with the Blue Devils, in which he averaged 5.5 points and two rebounds in only 9.7 minutes per game. Despite the solid production in such limited time, King felt that Duke wasn't the right fit for him, and his game. After that single campaign with the Blue Devils, King found himself in the headlines once again when he decided to transfer from Duke to Villanova.
After sitting out one season under the NCAA transfer rules, King suited up for the Wildcats for the 2009-10 season. At Villanova, King played well in a key backup role, averaging 7.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game. He helped the Wildcats earn an NCAA Tournament berth that season, but was benched by Coach Jay Wright for a key game against West Virginia. King was benched in what Coach Wright referred to as a "teaching moment." After Villanova was ousted in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, King decided to leave the team and focus on his studies.
The love that King has for the game of basketball wouldn't let him get away from the hardwood for too long. He decided to transfer yet again, but this time closer to home. Initially, Kings' desire was to play for USC, but that was quickly derailed.
"At first I was planning on playing at USC, but the cost of tuition was too high," King said.
Unfortunately for them, King had to weigh other options.
King's long, headline-filled journey from one of the most storied high school basketball programs in the country, to two of the most powerful Division I schools, has led him back to his old stomping grounds. Onto his newest conquest, King is now suiting up with NAIA powerhouse, Concordia University of Irvine.
His choice to play at such a small school may shock some people, but it's right where King wants to be.
"The atmosphere is great, it's low profile," King said. "My teammates are great, and we have a great coaching staff."
Having played at Concordia throughout his youth, King describes his transition as easy. His coaches and teammates are looking forward to what that freedom will bring.
Although King may be the big story out of Concordia, both he and Coach Ken Ammann are quick to point out that this team is not just Taylor made, starting with 2009-10 Golden State Athletic Conference MVP Justin Johnson.
Johnson is looking forward to what King can bring to an already well-balanced team.
"Taylor fits in great with this team, he is long, he is a great shooter, and gives us huge advantages," Johnson said.
Great players such as Johnson are always looking to improve their game and those around them as well. As the Eagles team leader, Johnson is working toward improving his leadership for this season.
"I want to be a better leader, bring more wisdom and knowledge to the court, just overall leadership," Johnson said.
Coach Ammann is heading into his 10th season at the helm for Concordia. Ammann's hard-nosed defense and team-first style has helped turn Concordia into a perennial NAIA power.
When he was first approached with King's interest in playing for Concordia, Ammann made a phone call to McKnight.
"I always like to have D1 transfers, but I needed to evaluate him as a person to see if it was a good fit for both sides," Ammann said. "I talked to Gary McKnight, and his opinion weighed heavily on the decision. I wouldn't have brought him in if it wasn't a good fit for both sides."
Ammann is excited to see how King's presence will help the offense of this Eagles squad that in past years has been mainly defensive minded.
"[King] brings great offense; he is a great shooter, and also a good rebounder," Ammann said.
Ammann admits that on paper, this is one of the best teams he has had during his time at Concordia, but he won't jump to conclusions about what this team is capable of.
"It's not easy to have success, this is a tough league," said Ammann, the 2010 Golden State Athletic Conference Coach of the Year who guided the Eagles to a national title in 2003. "We want to build team unity and just play hard and enjoy the journey."
Whether the headlines are negative or positive, King has no regrets about being thrust into the spotlight at such an early age.
"Being in the limelight since seventh and eighth grade has definitely helped me stay grounded, level-headed, and prepared me for tough situations," he said.
His East Coast swing may be over, but King feels right at home with Concordia and his new teammates. The GSAC may not be the ACC or the Big East, but King's competitive fire is still aflame.
When asked if anything less than an NAIA title would be a disappointment, both Johnson and Coach Ammann echoed one another with, "We're gonna take it one game at a time."
But King had a different take on it. When asked if he would be satisfied with anything less than a championship, King replied, "No, but we need to get better every day, during every practice."
With both King and Johnson on the wings, the Eagles expect to soar this season.
They tip off their season Nov. 5 at UC Irvine, which Concordia beat by a 57-56 margin in last season's opener.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun