Basketball looks too easy when Gabe Taylor's playing the game.
The manner in which the rising Valley Catholic High senior uncorks picturesque outside jumpers from NBA range with a high release and textbook follow-through and finds nothing but net is filthy.
Taylor's Dirk Nowitzki-esque turnarounds over helpless opponents from inside 15 feet are unguardable. He drops silky right-to-left crossovers that eat up defenders in transition, plus Taylor has the kind of versatility that allows him to play three or four positions effortlessly and effectively.
Hooping, on the surface, comes naturally to Taylor. He's one of those players who could roll out of bed 30 minutes before the game, wipe the sleep from his eyes as he's strolling onto the court and drop 20 points.
Yet, everything that's gone right in Taylor's high school basketball career — the Class 3A all-State selection as a junior, being named Lewis and Clark League boys' basketball player of the year last season and verbally committing to the University of Portland — wasn't by accident or a stroke of good luck.
Originally posted at: Portland Tribune
Without doubt, Taylor was blessed with an extended 6-8 frame and butter-smooth athleticism. However, his jumper, which seemingly was predestined for pretty swishes, wasn't bestowed on him. He's had to plug away and earn everything he's received.
So, while his scholarship is secure and his reputation as one of the best high school players in the state is dubbed, Taylor won't be caught gazing at last year's press clippings. The Valiant forward is grinding this summer, suiting up for Oregon Pump 'N' Run, an AAU program based in Portland. When his peers are out on the river enjoying the summer, Taylor will be lifting, adding another layer of muscle to prepare for the rigors of the Division-I level.
Wheels in motion
Taylor had every reason to take it easy this summer. His future is set. This fall, he'll ink a full, four-year scholarship with the Pilots during the NCAA's early signing period. The match was perfect, Taylor said. But in no way is he taking it easy this summer and resting on his laurels.
It's not in his mental makeup. He likes to work. Taylor's work ethic is second to none, and his commitment to the game has gotten him to this point.
“It takes some of the stress off ,but I also put a lot of pressure on myself to play well and to get better,” Taylor says. “I just know I need to keep working, because if I want to be good in college, I have to keep getting better.”
“I told our players last year he wasn't born that talented as a player. He's tall and skilled, but the reason he's a good player is because he works," Valley Catholic coach Joel Sobotka says. “It's not a secret."
Taylor knows certain facets of his game need to progress, such as his foot speed on defense and ballhandling abilities offensively, but he's not afraid to put in the grunt work. He's coachable and open to critique, particularly coming from Sobotka.
Sobotka took over Valley Catholic's program last year after coaching at the University of Portland from 2006-12 and Portland State from 1996-2002.
Sobotka's close familiarity with the college game intrigued Taylor when he transferred from Newberg High last season. First and foremost, Taylor said he wanted to challenge himself scholastically, but the chance to absorb instruction from a former D-I coach was too much to turn down, even when bigger schools reached out.
Sobotka says Taylor is very modest and grateful for every opportunity that comes his way. If the Valiant coach spends his free time working out the forward before school at 6:30 a.m., Taylor genuinely thanks Sobotka.
Making an impression
Taylor is devoted to helping young, burgeoning basketball players at the Valiant summer hoops camp. He drew rave reviews throughout the community for his genial demeanor and willingness to pass his love of the game on to the younger generation.
Taylor sincerely cares about his teammates and coaches and loves hanging out with all of them.
“Even more so than being a great player, he's a great person,” Sobotka says. “He's a tremendous kid as far as being a great teammate, a great leader. He's by far one of the hardest workers I've ever coached.”
Taylor's multifaceted floor game, his ability to put the ball on the deck at his size but still post up on the block and grind in the paint, is what makes him a nightmare for opponents to guard. On one occasion against Boise Hoop Dreams at the recent Rose City Showcase, Taylor slung a right to left crossover in the open floor, carved his way into the key, drew the foul and swished both free throws.
“I like to work it outside and inside just so that I'm harder to guard. They can't get a good feel on where I'm going to score from,” Taylor says. “That's something I work hard on and like showing.”
Playing AAU basketball is a tough situation to be in, especially as a big guy playing with ball-dominant guards. But in the Showcase game, Taylor found other ways to be effective. When the rock didn't come his way, the Valiant forward crashed the glass and tried to either grab the offensive board or tip it to a teammate. Taylor freed point guard Malik Morgan a couple times with a solid ball screen that led to a hoop. Taylor proved he's not above doing the dirty work, even though at Valley Catholic the offense runs primarily through him and emphasizes his suitcase of skills.
“At Valley, Coach Sobotka does a really great job of getting us in the right spots and really working to all our strengths,” Taylor says. “But here (in AAU), you have to go out and show your strengths. You have to hunt for your shot a little more.”
A motivating force
Taylor wants to be an exceptional player and alter his all-around game not just so he can excel at the next level but so he and his Valley Catholic mates can take care of some incomplete business at the 3A tournament next March.
Last year in the 3A semifinals, Blanchet Catholic and its devastating duo of Patrick and Brent Counts baffled the Valiants. The Counts brothers combined for 27 points and 16 rebounds in a 48-37 win that sent the Cavaliers to the state championship and pushed Valley Catholic to a fifth-place finish.
“Losing's not fun,” Taylor says. “For me, I needed to realize what it's like to lose in a high-pressure game like that, and I think it's going to make us even stronger coming back. We know what we felt after that game, and we're not going to let it happen again this year.”
The failure to win a championship affected Taylor substantially, being that it was the first time he'd ever competed for a state crown. However, while the wounds haven't completely healed and probably won't fully until next March, it's been the motivating force behind Taylor's itch to improve.
“I think we'll be good because we know what it takes now as a team” Taylor says. “We know how bad we have to want it in the offseason and how hard we have to work, so when we're there next year, we're going to win it.”
Sobotka says he plans on putting Taylor in unfamiliar scenarios this season that he might face in college. Whether it's guarding a point guard or bringing the ball up the floor against suffocating pressure, Sobotka doesn't want his star to dominate the 3A ranks simply because he's the biggest guy on the court.
Playing 3A teams who sport 6-foot posts, Taylor is a man among boys. Yet, Sobotka says his job isn't to exploit Taylor's obvious advantages inside but rather to use the high school stage to decelerate the collegiate learning curve.
“Gabe's very attentive, because he knows I have coached at that level, and I talk to him about not just being a guy that makes it, that gets to a college scholarship,” Sobotka says. “I want him to go there and have success as a freshman. With his hard work, he's put himself in a position to gain attention from colleges, but I feel like one of my jobs is to help him get ready and make sure he's not blown away when he walks in.”
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