Maurice Taylor is a Clipper now, and the University of Michigan is behind him.
But he emerged from the locker room after a solid debut in the Fila Summer Pro League on Monday still wearing a chain with a glittering Michigan "M," seemingly eager to deny allegations published by the Detroit Free Press in May that he accepted more than $100,000 from a booster while playing at Michigan.
"Everything said at Michigan was allegations, things I had nothing to do with," said Taylor, a first-round draft pick who signed with the Clippers on Sunday and came off the bench Monday to contribute 10 points and three rebounds in the Clippers' 111-106 victory over the Blazers at the Pyramid in Long Beach. "I never took money or anything. Everything I got, I got from my family."
The Free Press cited four unnamed sources in reporting that Taylor and Chris Webber--another former Michigan player now in the NBA--received large amounts of cash from Ed Martin, a booster at the center of an NCAA investigation who has been banned by the university because of improper contact with basketball players. (An attorney representing Webber also has denied the allegations.)
Taylor admitted he knows Martin but said he has spoken to the NCAA only once, after a 1996 accident involving his 1996 Ford Explorer raised suspicion about how he could afford a $36,000 vehicle. His aunt and grandmother later provided documents showing they had made the lease payments on the car.
Taylor called it "preposterous" that his vehicle aroused suspicion and said he doesn't expect to hear from the NCAA again, but would cooperate with investigators, saying he has "nothing to hide."
"It's not like they can do anything to me, make me sit out," he said with a laugh. "Anything [Michigan Coach Steve Fisher] or the team needs, they can call any time. The NCAA can call any time."
Clipper Coach Bill Fitch watched from the sidelines Monday as Taylor--a powerfully built 6-9 forward who probably is headed for a supporting role--showed mobility and some strong post moves only a day after joining the team's workouts.
"He runs well, carrying 258 pounds. He runs a lot better than some of these guys who are 190," Fitch said. "I saw a lot of good things. He's got to progress, but I still think he has a lot to offer our team. He's young. He's 20 years old. There's a big difference between this game now and the one he'll have to play three months from now."
Taylor says basketball, not the NCAA's interest in Michigan, led him to leave school a year early.
"I didn't have a great junior year," he said, after averaging 12.3 points. "I felt my senior year at Michigan I would not get that much better, being zoned and triple-teamed. . . . I thought it was best for me to go."
Before the Clippers made him the 14th pick, Fitch consulted a friend in the Michigan athletic department who vouched for Taylor despite the allegations of improper payments.
"If I want to know what a guy had for breakfast, I ask him. He swears by the kid," Fitch said.
Taylor knows that until he makes a bigger name for himself in the NBA, his name will be linked with the questions at Michigan.
"I don't think it's a black mark on my character. Everyone has their opinions," Taylor said. "When it first came up, people who didn't know me thought I was the average pampered college superstar, and I wanted everything easy. But I never took anything from anybody."