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April 18, 2009

Draft diary: Taylor out to prove he's for real

University of Central Florida guard Jermaine Taylor was the third-leading scorer in the nation last season. Though he didn't play in a "major" conference, many believe Taylor has good chance to be selected in the first round of this year's NBA draft. This is the first edition of a draft diary that will run periodically as he readies to begin his pro career.

After finishing his senior season as the nation's third-leading scorer, UCF guard Jermaine Taylor has spent the postseason proving that performance wasn't a fluke.

Taylor, who is 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, was named his team's most valuable player in the Hershey's College All-Star Game that took place at Ford Field on the eve of the NCAA semifinals. He followed up by making the all-tournament team last week at the Portsmouth Invitational, a pre-draft tournament that features seniors from across the nation. Those performances have upgraded Taylor's stock enough that he is now being mentioned as a potential first-round pick.

Taylor agreed to play at the Portsmouth Invitational even as many other seniors shied away from the event. No participant in the Portsmouth Invitational has been drafted in the first round since the Detroit Pistons selected Cincinnati forward Jason Maxiell with the 26th overall pick in 2005.

The Portsmouth field was stronger than usual this year because it represented the only chance for potential draft picks to play against one another in five-on-five situations now that the NBA has canceled the pre-draft camps that used to take place in Orlando, Fla., each year.

Taylor had no reluctance about participating in the event and discusses his Portsmouth performance in the first edition of a draft diary that will run periodically as he readies to begin his pro career.

"I just wanted to see where my game was. I'd watched a lot of these guys, [Boston College's] Tyrese Rice and [Texas'] A.J. Abrams. I'd watched a lot of these guys play on TV. I guess they're supposed to be some of the best players in the country. I wanted to compare my game to theirs and see where I stood. Some people told me not to go to Portsmouth because you could hurt yourself. I said, 'Forget all that.' I wanted to see where I stood."

Taylor averaged 21.3 points to lead all Portsmouth Invitational players. He shot 46.4 percent overall and averaged 3.7 rebounds. In his first game, he scored 30 points in 32 minutes. He followed that up by scoring 21 points in 23 minutes. In his final game, he scored 13 points in 29 minutes.

"I think I proved I can score against anyone. A lot of people thought [during the season] I was getting 26 points per game just because we weren't playing the best competition or some of the best teams, but I've been doing that [scoring] for a long time. Put me on the floor with anybody, and I'm just trying to play my game."

Playing in these types of tournaments represents a challenge because a player wants to make an impression on NBA scouts without seeming too selfish. Taylor said he didn't have a problem scoring while playing within the framework of his team.

"It wasn't difficult at all. I'm going to step out there every game and play my game. If I think I have the shot, I'm going to shoot it. If I drive out there and see a guy open, I'll kick it to him. I'm not going out there to do one thing. I just want to go out there and do what I do best.

"I really didn't know what to expect going in. All I knew going in is I was going to play hard, give it my all and play my game. If I did that, everything else would speak for itself. I think a lot of people out there probably didn't know I could do it, but people who've been watching me play for years know what I can do. The stuff I did there is the same stuff I've been doing since I started playing basketball. I have a scorer's mentality. That's what I do."

Taylor has heard his performance at the Portsmouth Invitational has improved his draft stock.

"From what I've been hearing, I was one of the most talked-about players at Portsmouth. It's really like a dream come true. It lets me know I'm getting close to my dream. This is what I used to dream about as a kid, being paid to play basketball something I enjoy doing.

"I'm definitely shooting for the first round, just the guaranteed contract. Even if I don't go first round and [the contract is] not guaranteed, I want to do the things necessary to get guaranteed [money]. I'm a hard worker. I listen. When people are telling me things I think are going to help me, I definitely listen, take it all in and try my best to do it."

Taylor wasn't the only player to turn heads at Portsmouth. Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll was named the tournament's MVP. Abrams, Georgia Tech's Alade Aminu, Rhode Island's Jimmy Baron, Washington's Jon Brockman, UAB's Paul Delaney, Marquette's Wesley Matthews, Xavier's B.J. Raymond, West Virginia's Alex Ruoff, Augusta State's Garret Siler, Virginia Tech's A.D. Vassallo and Utah State's Gary Wilkinson also joined Taylor on the all-tournament team. Baron set the Portsmouth record for 3-pointers in a game (nine) and a tournament (16).

"There were a few players who really impressed me. Jimmy, the shooter from Rhode Island, he really impressed me. I met him at the 3-point shootout and dunk contest in Detroit. I knew he was a shooter, but he can really shoot the lights out. It was crazy. You could do nothing but laugh. He was banking it in at the buzzer, shooting 3-4 feet behind the NBA line."

Taylor now is looking to build on the momentum he established at Portsmouth.

"I'm just working out, lifting weights every day, working on my game. In a few weeks, I'm going to head to Indiana. I have a trainer there, and I'll work out with him and improve things I need to improve ballhandling and defense and things like that. I want to work on that and just try to get that part of my game better."

Taylor indicated his performance in the Hershey's College All-Star Game helped prepare him for Portsmouth. He had 23 points and six steals in the Hershey's Game.

"What really gave me the confidence was the Hershey's All-Star Game. I played in that in Detroit and got MVP [of my team] in that. Those are supposed to be some of the best players in the country. To get MVP against guys that come from Boston College and all the other big colleges let me know where my game is and gave me all kinds of confidence that as long as I play my game and do what I do best, I can play with the best of them. I just carried it on to Portsmouth.

"My first game [at Portsmouth], I felt I had something to prove, being from Central Florida and on the floor with guys from Marquette and other big-time colleges that play on TV all the time and that made it to the NCAAs and everything. I just wanted to prove to guys that it doesn't matter where you go; it just matters how good you are. I really believe I can play with the best of them."

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

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