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Transfer Jacquil Taylor provides rebound strength for Hofstra

Transfer Jacquil Taylor provides rebound strength for Hofstra

As a budding prospect from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jacquil Taylor once called himself the “Best Kept Secret.” After four years, a myriad of injuries and a career’s worth of lessons, college basketball’s “Best Kept Secret” is ready to make himself public.

Taylor’s long journey to Hempstead started as a child over three hours away. Taylor grew up in a college basketball family, as his uncles Keith and Lamar Butler both played college basketball. Keith Butler played for Temple University and DePaul University, while Lamar Butler played for George Mason University. Most recently, Taylor’s older brother, Maurice, played for North Carolina A&T State University and Niagara University.

“I’ve just been around basketball my entire life,” Taylor said. “My dad was my [Amateur Athletic Union] coach, so he helped with my recruitment, and I played my older brother all the time.”

Eventually he would play high school basketball in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, at Beaver Country Day School, where he blossomed as a solid, big-man prospect. He was a physical, athletic forward who was offered scholarships by multiple colleges, including Boston University and Siena College before he committed to play at Purdue University.

Taylor came in with a freshman class that included college standouts such as Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias. Those players – especially Haas, a 7-foot-2-inch, 300 pound center – provided a good challenge for Taylor, himself 6 feet and 10 inches tall and 235 pounds, to keep improving in practices.

“As hard as it is on TV for other guys, I don’t even feel bad for them, because I’m like, ‘Hey, this is what I [have to] deal with every day,’” Taylor said.

He was also able to play for an experienced winning coach in Matt Painter and for multiple NBA players, including Caleb Swanigan and A.J. Hammons.

“[From Coach Painter,] I learned that every little detail actually does matter, and moving without the ball is essential,” Taylor said. “From [Edwards], [Hammons], [Swanigan], [Haas] and all of [my other teammates], the mental aspect is the most important part when it comes to basketball.”

 Unfortunately, Taylor played sparingly due to injuries and was forced to redshirt his freshman year. It wasn’t the first setback of Taylor’s career, however. He missed his junior year of high school due to injury, and it wouldn’t be his last. He missed the 2016-17 season due to the same injury in his left foot.

But even through all of these struggles, it was the mental toughness that was instilled from his teammates and friends that helped him battle through.

“It seemed like I was taking one step forward and two steps backward; it seemed like I never got a break,” Taylor said. “But my friends told me, ‘God won’t put you in a situation that you can’t handle.’ So he’s putting me in a situation because he knows that I can handle [it].”

Taylor’s biggest shot at the spotlight at Purdue came in his senior season during March Madness, when Haas fractured his arm in a game against the California State University, Fullerton Titans. With backup Matt Haarms being forced to start, Taylor came into the backup role, logging a career-high 15 minutes in a homecoming game in Boston against Texas Tech University in the Sweet Sixteen.

“It was a flat-out unbelievable experience,” Taylor said. “The way the season was going for me, I would’ve never thought I would have that chance ... I’m just glad my family got to see me play in my home state.”

After earning his degree in interdisciplinary film and video studies, Taylor announced his intent to transfer in search of better playing time opportunities.

“When you decommit from a school, you just get a bunch of phone calls ... people were calling my phone at 11 o’clock at night and 2 in the morning ... But honestly, it’s a good frustration that people actually wanted me,” Taylor said.

Eventually, Hofstra was able to sell him on something other school’s simply couldn’t provide: a great fit close to home.

“My parents haven’t seen me play in such a long time, and I was so far away ... at least [they] can see me play my last college season,” Taylor said.

With this transfer, Hofstra is able to secure a potential multi-year replacement for all-time rebounding leader Rokas Gustys. Because of Taylor’s unique situation with injuries, he may be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.

Taylor has been solid so far this year, starting and averaging a career-high 20 minutes, 3.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. He’s shown flashes of a tough center down low who isn’t afraid to battle for a rebound, much like his favorite player, Kevin Garnett. His most dominant game this season was a 17-rebound effort in a 69-67 loss against Virginia Commonwealth University. It was his second 10-plus rebound game of the season.

It was also the biggest test of his much improved foot and ankle, as he logged a career-high 35 minutes in the game. To come back from a lower body injury at 6 feet 10 inches is a very difficult task, and Taylor has proved every bit of his resilience and drive to return to form this season.

Another important thing that Taylor brings to the Pride is his postseason experience. Taylor is one of two players, along with fellow graduate transfer Dan Dwyer (University of Pennsylvania), to make it to March Madness. This Hofstra team isn’t particularly young, with only one freshman on the roster, but Taylor’s experience in playing important postseason minutes will come in handy for the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament and beyond.

“I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen when things go completely south; I’ve seen situations where we didn’t fold under pressure; and I’ve seen situations where we flat-out just blew teams out,” Taylor said. “I’ve been around really good teams, and I’ve also been around teams where we could’ve been good, but things just didn’t go our way.”

But before getting to the conference tournament, the rest of the season must be played out. The team faces high expectations, especially from within.

“As far as the team goes, I think we go to the NCAA tournament,” Taylor said. “But we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do.”

Taylor and the Pride will continue working toward that goal this season. Their next game will be at home against the Monmouth University Hawks on Wednesday, Dec. 5.

Photo Courtesy of Hofstra Athletics

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