The first time I watched Mott Community College sophomore John Taylor play this season, it was in a public scrimmage against Mid-Michigan Community College in the fall. At the time, the lefty guard with a quick sling-shot release was hitting 3-pointers from all over the court and looked like Mott had a shorter version of NBA guard Michael Redd. First impressions are often wrong, and my impression of Taylor as some sort of 3-point assassin clearly missed the mark.
The three is definitely a part of Taylor’s arsenal, but his strength is simply attacking off the dribble. He was impossible to trap, and it was pretty funny watching teams try all season long. Frequently, teams wanted to get the ball out of Taylor’s hands, so they’d send two or three defenders at him around halfcourt. This usually ended with Taylor dribbling his way through the double or triple team, turning on his speed once he got through it, and turning that trap attempt into a 5-on-3 or 5-on-2 advantage for Mott with the rest of their talented team either cutting hard to the basket or spotting up for threes. Seriously, it was one of the most entertaining parts of the season … nearly every team tried to trap him on possession after possession and it almost always ended with Mott getting a score or at the very least a great shot.
Taylor led Mott to a national championship and a school-best 35-1 record this season. This week, he became the fourth player in Mott history to win the JUCO National Player of the Year award. Here was the NJCAA news release:
The Chicago-native led the Bears to a 35-1 national championship season in 2011-12. Defeating Community College of Rhode Island 70-60 in the title game, the Bears received a game-high 23 points and six assists from Taylor. On the season, Taylor ranked seventh in the nation in scoring with 24.9 points per game and led Mott with 4.1 assists per game. For his efforts, Taylor was named Tournament MVP and was a first team All-America selection.
Other Mott players of the year: Jay Youngblood, Kevin Tiggs and Jeremie Simmons. So that begs the question, who is the best? I’m not really equipped to answer that question, since I didn’t see all of them play while at Mott, but I’ll make a short case for each guy and then let you the readers vote on who you think it is.
The results speak for themselves. Taylor was the best player on, record-wise, the best team Mott has ever had. In fact, the only game they lost this season, against Henry Ford Community College, was Taylor’s first game back after missing two games to return to Chicago for the birth of his child. Taylor was rusty (shooting 9-for-24) and Mott had played well in his absence, then had to re-adjust to his style after they played a much different style offensively in the two games he missed. Henry Ford played well and deserved to win the game, the point is just that Mott had by far its worst game of the season (20 turnovers and 35 percent shooting), Taylor had his worst game of the season and Mott still only lost by four to a pretty good team. Taylor was very close to leading Mott to a perfect record.
That’s more impressive when you consider the roster. It’s not that this year’s Mott team wasn’t talented, they always are deep with good players. But this was probably coach Steve Schmidt‘s least talented national title team overall. Of the top eight guys in their rotation, seven were guards and the eighth, Walter Davis, is a 6-foot-5 center. Mott was at a major size disadvantage against virtually every team they played this season, and somehow, it never mattered.
At Mott games all season, I heard plenty of debates among longtime fans about where Taylor ranks among Mott greats. Most were hesitant to say he’s the best player Mott has ever had, but … those wins. It’s really hard to argue against the results of this season and the success Mott had, led by Taylor, despite the small makeup of the roster and despite the fact that they only returned two rotation players from last year’s team.
Youngblood won a national title at Mott and averaged 19 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 54 percent. He was Mott’s first NJCAA Player of the Year, winning the award in 2004. He was bigger and a more efficient scorer than Taylor (as his shooting percentage attests). Youngblood could create off the dribble and get shots for others, but not to the extent Taylor does — Taylor is actually a wonderful passer who could develop into a point guard at the next level if he starts thinking more like a distributor.
Youngblood had a standout career at Kent State and became an explosive scorer overseas as a professional player. At Mott, he was just a stat-sheet stuffer who did a little bit of everything at a high level.
I think if Schmidt had a vote in this, he’s picking Tiggs, the 2007 National Player of the Year. Any time Tiggs is mentioned in a discussion with Schmidt, Schmidt’s face lights up. It’s not that he doesn’t love all of the great players he’s coached over the years, it’s just that Tiggs kind of symbolizes Mott basketball in every way.
He’s a local Flint kid who didn’t play much high school basketball, was working a factory job before enrolling at Mott and catching Schmidt’s eye in an open gym and he has a positive demeanor that is just infectious. Here’s what Schmidt said about Tiggs in 2007:
“I don’t know if I’ve coached a kid any more special than Kevin Tiggs,” said Schmidt of his dynamic 6-4 forward. “Me and Kevin have become very close over the past two years, and I’ve been very tough on him. Kevin just reacts and responds in a positive way.”
The smiley sophomore, who has consistently grinned his way through hardship, is now the standard bearer at Mott.
“He’s genuine and he works so hard and has so much heart,” said Schmidt. “We get kids from different backgrounds and some kids are more affluent than others. I’m not sure how much Kevin has, but he appreciates and does the most with what he has–that’s why I respect him.”
And, oh yeah … on top of all that sentimental stuff, Tiggs was a really unique and exceptional player too. At 6-foot-5, Tiggs was big enough to be effective around the basket, but equally adept at stepping out and hitting the three or putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket. As a sophomore, he averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.2 steals per game and he shot 62 (!) percent from the field. He’s another player who is difficult to compare to Taylor simply because their positions and roles were so different, but Tiggs’ stats both at Mott and at East Tennessee State where he played after Mott are amazing, particularly his shooting numbers.
Simmons, who was Player of the Year in 2008, is the player most frequently compared to Taylor. Both are Chicago products, both are insanely quick with the ball, both are scoring guards in point guard bodies and both are fantastic finishers inside against bigger players.
I’ll condense the many, many debates I heard about the two players this season: slight edge in ball-handling to Taylor; slight edge in perimeter shooting to Simmons; slight edge in end-to-end speed to Simmons; slight edge in finishing to Simmons; slight edge in passing to Taylor; slight edge in on-ball defense to Taylor (because of his long arms).
Simmons’ stats as a sophomore were 21.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game. He shot 48 percent overall and 42 percent from three.
Statistically, Taylor was much less efficient than the other three players here. It is true, Taylor’s shot selection can get a bit wild at times and on occasion, he fell in love with his perimeter shot instead of attacking inside. But his percentage also suffered because he was asked to shoot more than the other three were on their respective teams. Youngblood, Simmons and Tiggs all played on teams with more offensive firepower than Taylor did. Surrounded by more offensive options, I have a hunch Taylor would’ve took fewer high degree of difficulty shots.
I honestly have no idea how I’d rank these guys. Tiggs is probably the most important guy symbolically to the program — he’s kind of the unofficial standard Schmidt has in mind when he’s setting the bar for how he wants his players to conduct themselves. Youngblood is important simply because he was the key guy on the first national title team, he helped build the program in the beginnings. Simmons is probably the most dynamic guy they’ve produced. Taylor was probably the most vital to the respective team he played on. How do you rank that? Feel free to vote or leave your thoughts in the comments.