Penn State Basketball: Freshman Brandon Taylor Not Afraid to Take the Shot
Standing just beyond the 3-point arc, Brandon Taylor stood with his hands out ready to receive a pass. When it came to him, Taylor rose, fired and watched as his shot sailed through the air hitting nothing but net. As the crowd cheered, Taylor turned and pumped his fist, running back down the court, Penn State holding a 3-2 lead over No.5 Indiana.
Taylor, a Tabernacle, N.J. native, has taken shots like that one for the Nittany Lions all season. While scoring Penn State’s first points in a game hardly qualifies Taylor as a cold-blooded shooter, the shoot-first mentality from the freshman is a welcome sight for a team looking for points following the loss of All-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier.
“I told him he didn’t have time to be a freshman,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “And I don’t have to fix anything about his head. He’s shooting the ball with great confidence.”
Having attended New Jersey’s Trenton Catholic Academy, a U-shaped school only four miles from the Pennsylvania boarder, the 22-mile drive to Philadelphia was close enough for Taylor to play as a member of Team Philly, one of the city's premier AAU hoops squads, sponsored by former Villanova guard Kyle Lowry.
Taylor’s membership on Team Philly also gave him rights to “Philly Swagger,” a popular term for Chambers to describe the kind of player he likes to recruit from a city he knows all too well.
“He's got that toughness. He's from the streets of North Philly,” Chambers said, describing the qualifiers of “Philly Swagger.” “He is going to grind and grit. He won't stop until that buzzer sounds. He's a competitor. He is confident.”
Taylor knows exactly what his coach means.
“I’ve been playing in Philly since I was 9 years old,” Taylor said before practice Wednesday. “I’ve got family in Philly. I play basketball over there all the time. I play in Philly more than I play in New Jersey, always against Philly guys, so people look at me as a Philly guy.”
At 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, with dreadlocks and a big frame, it’s hard to imagine that Taylor was ever bullied. But like everyone, Taylor wasn’t always that big, and with his older brother Jayson around, Taylor grew a confidence that has been on the court in part from that sibling rivalry.
“Getting picked on by my older brother,” Taylor said smiling. “Always getting beaten on, playing in Philly, playing in Jersey. It made me tough, it made me confident.”
Shooting the ball at a team-high 41 percent clip from behind the arc over the past four games has made Taylor an essential part of Penn State’s offensive success heading into Thursday night's game against Northwestern.
However, like almost every freshman year, Taylor has run into his own speed bumps. Taylor has picked up four or more fouls five times, fouling out twice this season. A two-foul span in 30 seconds resulted in only 13 minutes of play against Indiana for the freshman who had been seeing the court in the upwards of 33 minutes this season. It’s something that comes with adjusting to college and playing in what is likely the best conference in the nation this year.
“You can definitely see how much stronger, how much faster, how much better the players are,” Taylor said. “There are still good players in nonconference, but these guys are taller, stronger, faster, so it makes it that much harder on the defensive end. So I just have to get better on the defensive end.”
Taylor will get a chance again Thursday night to help the Nittany Lions to their first conference victory. Penn State is hosting the Northwestern Wildcats at 8 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center in a game that is likely one of the better chances to notch a conference victory in the early portion of Big Ten play. Penn State has won 10 of the last 13 against the Wildcats.
And if his team needs a three to win it?
“I love that pressure,” Taylor said. “I like knowing when a team needs me to hit a big shot.”