February 17, 2009

UCF's Taylor thriving outside the spotlight

He could make a legitimate claim that he's the best shooter in college basketball, yet his name remains unknown to even dedicated fans.

And that's unlikely to change anytime soon for UCF senior guard Jermaine Taylor.

"I would like to get more attention," said Taylor, the nation's fifth-leading scorer, "but it doesn't really affect my game at all."

Apparently not.

Taylor has scored at least 18 points in 16 consecutive games and has at least 24 in each of his past five outings. Taylor has reached the 30-point mark seven times in his past 19 games.

His status as a high-scoring guard toiling in relative obscurity outside the major conferences isn't unusual. Davidson's Stephen Curry found himself in a similar situation earlier in his career.

Curry entered the national spotlight by shining in a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Maryland two years ago before leading Davidson to a regional final last season. But Taylor probably won't get a similar opportunity.

UCF (16-9, 6-5 Conference USA) had dropped three games in a row before Taylor's 35-point effort Saturday helped the Golden Knights rally from a 17-point deficit in the last 10 minutes to beat Tulsa 74-72. The Knights are in sixth place in a conference that probably will send one team Memphis to the NCAA tournament.

The Knights could earn an NIT bid with a strong finish, but that won't give Taylor a Curry-style showcase.

"From a scoring standpoint, I'm not sure there are many people in the country better than he is," UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. "I think that scouts are starting to realize that and understand that. He can get better with his ball skills, but he's an outstanding prospect. He's just one that nobody knows about because he hasn't been on national TV."

Taylor may not show up on TV often, but he's all over the list of NCAA leaders. He averages 25.0 points and has scored 1,791 career points, more than any player in UCF's history as a Division I program.

A closer look at the numbers provides even more evidence of Taylor's marksmanship. Taylor has the second-highest overall shooting percentage (.498) and 3-point percentage (.419) of any of the top 10 scorers in Division I. Only Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin (.638) is shooting at a higher overall percentage, while Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks (.441) has more accuracy from 3-point range.

On the mark
UCF guard Jermaine Taylor has the second-highest overall shooting percentage of any of the nation's top 10 Division I scorers. Here's a look at the shooting percentages of each of the nation's top 10 scorers through Sunday's games.
Name, school PPG FG PCT 3-PT PCT
Stephen Curry, Davidson29.0459.388
Lester Hudson, UT Martin27.9.461 .350
David Holston, Chicago State25.9 .430 .368
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky25.8 .482 .441
Jermaine Taylor, UCF25.0.498.419
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame24.4 .477.400
Josh Akognon, CS Fullerton23.2.387.350
Stefon Jackson, UTEP23.1.401.309
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma 22.8 .638.500*
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall22.8.425.348
NOTE: * - Griffin has attempted only six 3-pointers.
"He might be the most underexposed player in America, in my opinion," Florida coach Billy Donovan told The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun after his Gators became one of only three teams to hold Taylor to less than 18 points this season. "He's good enough to play anywhere in America."

He also is a more complete offensive player than most other scorers.

Taylor said he spent up to two hours each day this summer practicing shots from 12-15 feet away. Now he doesn't have to worry about simply driving to the basket or shooting 3-pointers. He also can pull up and make a short jumper.

He has led UCF in scoring in 24 of its 25 games. Taylor was named the Conference USA player of the week for the fourth time this season Monday after averaging 36.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in games against UTEP and Tulsa.

And he isn't a one-dimensional player who slacks off whenever the ball isn't in his hands. Taylor also ranks second on his team in blocks (19) and rebounds (5.3 per game).

"I told him he's as good as we've seen," Memphis coach John Calipari said after his team allowed 24 points to Taylor in a 73-66 victory over the Knights on Jan. 10. "We geared everything we had to stopping him. We did everything. We switched everything to try to hold him back. And he still gets 24."

Taylor would rather get his team a few more wins. The guy who could leave UCF as the school's all-time greatest basketball player would trade all of his records for a shot at the NCAA tournament. Taylor hasn't given up on the idea of reaching college basketball's biggest stage before the end of his career.

"That's my goal," Taylor said. "I've never been there, but I've had teammates in the past who went, and that's all they talk about, how exciting it is and the feeling and the atmosphere there. I want to take my team there."

Starring in the shadows
UCF guard Jermaine Taylor isn't the only outstanding player who hasn't gotten the chance to play in the NCAA tournament. Here's a look at 10 (actually 11) other exceptional performers who have never played in the NCAA tournament and are unlikely to earn invitations this year. We didn't include players from teams that are first or second in their conferences or that have a realistic shot of earning an at-large NCAA bid.
1. F Craig Brackins, Soph., Iowa State, 6-10/230
Season averages: 19.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 blocks
Team record: 13-12 overall, 2-8 Big 12
The buzz: Brackins arguably is the best player in the Big 12 not named Blake Griffin, but his individual exploits haven't kept the Cyclones from losing seven of their past eight games. How tough is it for Brackins? He scored 42 points on Jan. 24 against Kansas, but his teammates combined for just 25 more points in an 82-67 loss.
2. C John Bryant, Sr., Santa Clara, 6-10/305
Season averages: 18.0 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 1.0 assists
Team record: 14-14, 6-5 West Coast
The buzz: Bryant was stabbed in the back in September after leading the WCC in rebounds and blocks a year ago, but he has recovered well enough to perform even better this season. Bryant has recorded 11 consecutive double-doubles and has scored at least 20 points in four games in a row. Santa Clara has won seven of its past eight games after a slow start, but the Broncos won't earn an NCAA bid unless they win the conference tournament.
3. F Kevin Coble, Jr., Northwestern, 6-8/210
Season averages: 15.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals
Team record: 13-10, 4-8 Big Ten
The buzz: Northwestern's 70-67 loss to Michigan on Sunday symbolized the Wildcats' frustrating season. Coble made an off-balance 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in regulation to force the extra session, but the Wildcats couldn't close the deal in overtime. Coble is on pace to lead Northwestern in scoring and rebounding for a third consecutive season. His presence has the Wildcats on track for some type of postseason bid, though they won't earn their first NCAA invitation unless they win the Big Ten tournament.
4. G Brandon Ewing, Sr., Wyoming, 6-2/190
Season averages: 18.2 points, 5.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals
Team record: 14-10, 3-7 Mountain West
The buzz: Ewing leads the MWC in scoring and assists, but he hasn't been able to carry the Cowboys to the top half of the conference standings. Wyoming has lost four consecutive games, by an average margin of 18.5 points. Don't blame Ewing, who has shown a knack for getting to the foul line. Ewing averages 8.3 free throws per game and is shooting 81.8 percent from the line.
5. C Tony Gaffney, Sr., Massachusetts, 6-8/205, and G Ricky Harris, Jr., Massachusetts, 6-2/185
Season averages: Gaffney: 12.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, 1.9 steals, 1.6 assists. Harris: 19.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals
Team record: 9-14, 4-6 Atlantic 10
The buzz: Perhaps no other sub-.500 team in the nation has a tandem as talented as this duo. Gaffney ranks third in the nation in blocks behind only Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado and Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet and is 12th in the nation in rebounding. Harris is the Atlantic 10's third-leading scorer.
6. G Jeremy Hazell, Soph., Seton Hall, 6-5/185
Season averages: 22.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals
Team record: 14-10, 5-7 Big East
The buzz: Hazell has scored at least 30 points six times this season, including three times in a four-game stretch that included victories over Rutgers and St. John's. Hazell is tied for 10th in the nation in scoring and has recorded at least 12 points in every game Seton Hall has played this season. He carried the Pirates to a five-game winning streak that ended Saturday with a 62-54 loss to top-ranked Connecticut.
7. G Aaron Jackson, Sr., Duquesne, 6-4/185
Season averages: 17.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.7 steals
Team record: 15-9, 6-5 Atlantic 10
The buzz: Jackson is the only upperclassman on scholarship for a Duquesne team that includes eight freshmen, so it's no surprise that this four-year starter leads the Dukes in points and assists. Jackson, a three-time Atlantic 10 player of the week, is fourth in the conference in scoring, third in assists, third in free-throw percentage and tied for second in assist-turnover ratio.
8. G Stefon Jackson, Sr., UTEP, 6-5/185
Season averages: 23.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists
Team record: 15-9, 6-4 Conference USA
The buzz: Jackson ranks eighth in the nation in scoring and has reached double figures in each of UTEP's games this season. He leads the nation in made free throws (220) and free-throw attempts (259). Jackson went 20-for-20 from the line Saturday while scoring 35 points in a 74-67 victory over Marshall. He also had a 44-point game Dec. 30 in an 89-88 loss to Santa Clara.
9. G Dominique Jones, Soph., USF, 6-4/210
Season averages: 18.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Team record: 8-16, 3-9 Big East
The buzz: How much does Jones mean to his team? Consider that he leads the Bulls in scoring, rebounding and assists. Jones played particularly well during a four-game Big East span in mid-January when he averaged 26.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists. That USF went only 2-2 during that stretch (both wins came against a DePaul team that hasn't won a conference game all season) underscores how little support Jones is receiving from his teammates.
10. F Jerome Tillman, Sr., Ohio U., 6-6/235
Season averages: 18.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals
Team record: 13-11, 6-5 Mid-American
The buzz: Tillman tops the MAC in scoring and is in a virtual tie with Central Michigan's Marcus Van for the rebounding lead. Tillman has scored in double figures in 29 consecutive games over the past two seasons. Ohio's 6-5 MAC record would be good enough to tie the Bobcats for first place in the West Division, but they're stuck in the cellar in the East.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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