Basketball brings Taylor back home

It started when little league basketball coach Tommy Laborie approached 9-year-old Tamara Taylor, who sat watching her sister play basketball. He convinced her to play.

But the St. Petersburg native, now a junior guard for the Bulls, didn’t always want to play ball. She actually hated playing it. Out of curiosity triggered by her older sibling and coach, she decided to join her sister on the court.

“My sister was playing before me, and I used to always go watch her practice and (Laborie) saw how big I was,” Taylor said. “One day, I just got up and started practicing with them. He taught me the basics, and I started getting into the flow, learning how to shoot and dribble.”

Unlike Taylor and her
sister, their parents didn’t play basketball. They played softball, a sport that never attracted Taylor.

While her sister went to play at Miami Dade College, the criminology major continued to improve her play, learning from Laborie how to attack the basket after developing her 3-point jump. 

As she began playing at Boca Ciega High School, quickly making the varsity team and leading the Pirates to three straight final four appearances, including a state championship her senior year, the guard started receiving letters from universities such as Louisville, Ole Miss and Kentucky.

But she knew where she wanted to play from the start.

“I actually knew I wanted to come (to USF) from high school because I wanted to be close to home,” Taylor said.

She committed to USF in 2010, but due to grades not being up to par, she was forced to play at the junior college level at Gulf Coast State College, following in the footsteps of former USF players Andrea and Andrell Smith, who transferred from the same school.

At first, being six hours away from home was hard for Taylor, during her freshman year, but with the help of her coaches and teammates, she said she was able to enjoy her experience there.

“I kind of adjusted and met people … I didn’t know anybody there, and it was hard for me,” Taylor said. “When I got to know people up there, I started not to think about it as much. It was a fun experience.” 

Unlike her sister, who ended her career after two years at Miami Dade, Taylor decided to continue hers at USF in 2013 before her sophomore year. With Gulf Coast State, she led the Commodores to the Final Four of the NJCAA tournament, losing in the semifinals to Trinity Valley Community College. 

Now, six games into her junior year as a Bull, Taylor is the second-leading scorer, averaging 11.3 points per game. 

When she’s off the court, Taylor is found spending time with freshman guard Jayla King, who teammates call Taylor’s twin.

“We look alike, and we always hang around each other and we act the same,” King said. “She’s goofy, funny and silly like me. Outgoing, caring, loving, but she can get serious when it’s time to be serious.”

While many athletes warm up for a game listening to rap or rock, Taylor warms up to slow R&B music to get her mind in the game.

“I’m a big slow music fan. People always ask me how do you play slow music before a game,” Taylor said. “I don’t think it’s just the song. It’s how you respond off the music that you’re playing.”

R&B music will play through Taylor’s headphones again tonight as the Bulls (4-2) tip off with Florida Gulf Coast (4-3) in Fort Myers at 7 p.m.