Already committed to Oregon, junior prospect Taylor Bigby can focus on her game

After USA Basketball trials, Taylor Bigby walked away thinking she needed to keep the ball more and pass it less. And that has, in turn, helped her on the court. Marc Piscotty

PHOENIX -- The first time Centennial (Nevada) junior Taylor Bigby asked her dad, Lamar, if she could play basketball, he laughed at her.

Taylor was in third grade and until then had been a cheerleader for her older brother's football team. Basketball was all around her. She spent hours in the gym with her dad as he coached his AAU team, the Las Vegas Knicks. She sat around the gym, watching them practice and practice until one day she was ready to pick up a basketball.

"They did not think I really wanted to do it, because I was a cheerleader," Taylor said.

That didn't stop Taylor from eventually becoming the 23rd-ranked prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Class of 2021 and a future Oregon commit.

Basketball was the one sport Lamar didn't want his kids to play. He was an all-state high school basketball player in Michigan before winning two state titles in junior college. He finished his college career at UNLV.

"In the beginning, I didn't want basketball for none of my kids because I didn't want them to feel like they had to live up to being a Division I player like their dad," he said. "I was a high-level high school basketball player and junior college player as well, so I didn't want them to live up to that. I just wanted them to be my kids."

But Taylor's mom, Lonyae, granted her wish and signed her up for youth basketball. Lamar said he went to every game but "never thought much of it." Yet the more he watched Taylor play, the more he saw she was a "freak athlete."

"She was just this blur, she was really fast," Lamar said. "And then she started learning how to dribble, and I'm like, 'Oh, OK.' And then other people started to notice how good she was."

By seventh grade, she was 5-foot-10. A year later, she was making plays that Lamar knew kids her age weren't supposed to be making. Lamar remembers Taylor being able to grab a rebound and, in traffic, take a few dribbles before launching a chest pass from one free throw line to the other and her teammate either getting an easy layup or a three-point play.

"She will be literally like a blur and a freight train all at the same time," Lamar said. "And it was almost -- not comparing her to him but it was very similar -- it was almost like watching a Magic Johnson or a LeBron James. Get a rebound and push. It's like it's unfair. And so she was doing those kinds of things at that age, and I was like, 'OK, she going to get a scholarship.'"

Back then, Taylor didn't think basketball was going to take her far. She was just enjoying it. However, it seemed like everybody else knew basketball was going to be Taylor's future. She began getting a lot of attention for her basketball prowess that year, capped by a scholarship offer from the University of Colorado.

As she played and grew at Centennial High School in Las Vegas under coach Karen Weitz, Taylor continued to get offers. Lots of offers.

She had at least 25 heading into the fall of her junior year. On Sept. 1, the first day that college coaches could start reaching out to prospects, Taylor's phone began lighting up before it hit midnight in Las Vegas. That, she said, was the worst part of her recruitment because of how much attention she had to pay to her phone. It got to a point where her inner circle began cutting off schools before they could officially offer Taylor. Soon after Sept. 1, Taylor narrowed her list to 10 schools.

Then she took her recruiting trip to Oregon on Oct. 4.

Ducks coach Kelly Graves began recruiting Taylor when she was a freshman, and Taylor felt comfortable with their relationship. Graves called her, checked up on her, visited her and kept in touch with her dad. Once Taylor arrived in Eugene, Oregon, she immediately knew where she wanted to go.

"When I got on campus, just to see how happy all the girls were, just how genuine it was," Taylor said. "It was like fate. You know sometimes. It's not the same as when you talk to other coaches. It was just genuine to me and the campus was pretty."

Taylor committed on Oct. 5.

She liked the Ducks' style of play and felt like she could make a quick impact on defense once she arrives at Oregon.

"That's just like the new UConn now because they're winning," she said. "And he's built up a good program."

Even though the Ducks have five top-50 prospects in the Class of 2020 to help replace the likes of Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally, Taylor is one of six juniors ranked in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 to have already verbally committed to a D-I school -- and the only one headed to Oregon.

"When I got on campus, just to see how happy all the girls were, just how genuine it was. It was like fate. You know sometimes." Oregon commit Taylor Bigby

"It was a huge relief so I can just focus on myself," Taylor said. "I don't have to worry about playing in front of anyone trying to impress people. I'm already committed. Not that the offer can't be taken away from you, but it was a huge relief. I don't have to worry about talking to coaches all day."

With her college decision out of the way before her junior season tipped off, Taylor was able to concentrate on improving her play. And there was one major area she wanted to focus on.

"I think being more selfish," Taylor said. "I pass up a lot of shots and being more comfortable just pulling up, even though like I beat a lot of people off my first step just being able to pull up and hit a midrange or something."

It's something Weitz implores repeatedly, but something Taylor simply hasn't yet embraced.

"It's kind of weird," Weitz said. "Like these kids nowadays just don't have that killer mentality like some of the players I've had that have been big-time players. They just don't want to take the bull by the horns and go out there and be these 20-, 30-point scorers like they could be. It's just strange but she's just such a nice kid. I think she wants to always involve her team but sometimes if you can do that without them, you need to just go do it."

Lamar has always emphasized to Taylor that great players make their teammates around them better, but he also has never forgotten this advice from Graves: "He said, 'Lamar, it's easier to teach an unselfish player to be selfish than to teach a selfish player to be unselfish.'"

She has already seen how it can affect her. After USA Basketball trials, she walked away thinking she needed to keep the ball more and pass it less. Just like she does with Centennial.

"Sometimes I need to be the one taking the shots instead of trying to get everybody else [looks]," Taylor said. "I just feel like I try to do so much for everybody else and I put myself last when sometimes it should be myself first.

"I'll do whatever it takes for my team to win, so if passing first and we're winning and we're doing good, then I'm going to just keep passing."