Vince Taylor was riding his bike when he got the phone call.
There was no way the former Duke standout could wait and watch the NBA draft at his house with his parents.
“I just got on my bike and rode around for 30 or 40 minutes,” said Taylor, now a Texas Tech assistant coach. “Once I got back, that’s when I knew they called me at the house.”
Taylor was drafted in the second round, 33rd overall by the New York Knicks in the 1982 NBA Draft. However, many pundits had him pegged to go No. 17 overall to the New Jersey Nets.
Five underclassmen pushed him back to the second round — James Worthy, Terry Cummings, Dominique Wilkins, LaSalle Thompson and Quintin Dailey.
“Fewer kids got drafted and there were less teams back then which made it even harder,” Taylor said. “Your ego is saying ‘Man, I wish I could’ve gone in the first round.’ You’ve got a lot of work to do to make the team when you’re picked in the second round. My first year was guaranteed so that helped.”
He averaged 3.1 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game in his first NBA season. Still before his second season the Knicks traded him to the Indiana Pacers.
Once there he didn’t make the cut.
Taylor didn’t want his career to end so soon. So, he went to play in the European leagues.
“Back then, it still may be like this, but it felt like a demotion,” Taylor said. “You’re down and saying ‘I’ve got to go to Europe instead of the D-League or the NBA?’ You’re going to a place where a majority of the people don’t know you. It’s a new language and culture. It makes you mature real quick. It teaches you, it lets you know, how to figure out if you still love the game and want to make sacrifices to play.”
Taylor started out in Italy (1984-86) and went on to play in France (1986-92) and Belgium (1992-97). During his career, he travelled all over Europe and played against familiar foes from college and the NBA.
Taylor spent his last two seasons as a player/assistant coach in the Belgian professional league and once he was done overseas, he began his career as a coach.
“I’ve always loved the game,” Taylor said. “I’ve played basketball since I was 5 years old. I’ve always been around basketball for forever. My mom was my biggest motivator because she said ‘Vince, you would be a great teacher of basketball.’ That’s what coaching is. It’s wearing different hats — teacher, parent, mentor and psychiatrist. I still love basketball and always will. It was a natural progression from player to coach because I’ve watched so much basketball.”
Taylor started out as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh and Wyoming before he began a seven-year stint (1998-05) at Louisville, coaching under Denny Crum for three years and then Rick Pitino for four.
Taylor went on to coach in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves for two years before joining Tubby Smith’s staff at Minnesota.
“They’re all brilliant, highly motivated competitors who have different ways of coaching,” Taylor said. “They’re passionate about the game. They care about their players and they’re just caring people. They’re always mentally and physically prepared.”
Pedigree is somehting Taylor understands.
He played under Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski the latter half of his career at Duke where he went up against some tough competition – Ralph Sampson, James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan.
Taylor was named first team All-ACC and led the conference in scoring his senior year.
“It was great,” he said. “We had our ups and downs. We were ranked my first two years No. 1 in the country but we never finished strong like we should have. It was tough but I enjoyed it.”
Now, Taylor takes what he’s learned and teaches it to younger players, trying to make their dreams come true. And he won’t sugar coat anything. He’s been there and knows how much hard work it takes.
“You’ve got to have a burning desire to be a professional player,” Taylor said. “You have to believe in yourself because there are going to be people telling you that you can’t. You have to be strong mentally where you can say ‘Yes I can and I will do that.’”
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