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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."
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 10½ 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.
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."
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.