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Taylor-Made

Division III: Former NBA player who was part of two ABA championship teams continues winning touch by coaching Harvard-Westlake girls to state final.

March 20, 1999|DAVE DESMOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Former NBA player seeks employment at medium-sized private school. For references, please contact the U.S. Senate and Basketball Hall of Fame.

It was difficult to overlook Brian Taylor's resume in 1992, when he applied to teach middle school computer classes and work in the admissions office at Harvard-Westlake.

Ten years of playing in the defunct American Basketball Assn. and NBA, a degree from Princeton and several years of experience as a successful entrepreneur made him an attractive candidate for most jobs, even if the headmaster hadn't attended the same Ivy League school.

Besides, not hiring Taylor would have been a violation of doctor's orders.

Dr. J's orders.

Hall of Famer Julius Erving, Taylor's former teammate with the New York Nets, wrote a glowing letter of recommendation and was included on a reference list with Bill Bradley, then a New Jersey senator, and Pete Carril, the legendary Princeton basketball coach who retired after the 1995-96 season.

These days, Taylor is building his own legend at Harvard-Westlake, where he has developed the girls' basketball program into one of the Southland's strongest.

Today at 12:45 p.m., Taylor will guide Harvard-Westlake (29-5) against Lafayette Acalanes (29-4) in the state Division III championship game at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

Taylor, 47, who began as the school's middle school boys' coach, has won at least a share of three consecutive Mission League championships since taking over the girls' program in 1996-97. Harvard-Westlake won the Southern Section Division III-A title in 1997-98 and was runner-up this season.

Not bad for a program that had never won a playoff game before Taylor came along.

"But I can't take too much credit for that [success]," said Taylor, whose record is 78-19 in three seasons. "There's an incredible core of talent here, and the girls have worked very hard."

Championships are nothing new to Taylor, who played on two ABA championship teams alongside Erving with the Nets.

Taylor also captured a New Jersey state title as a senior at Perth Amboy High.

"He always tells us that his high school championship meant more to him than anything," said Brooke Porter, a junior guard for Harvard-Westlake. "He's been through what we're going through right now, so he can relate to what we're experiencing."

But few can relate to the success Taylor experienced as an athlete.

A prep standout in three sports, Taylor earned All-American honors in basketball and as a quarterback in football. He also attracted attention from professional scouts playing shortstop on the baseball team.

Bradley, Princeton's all-time leading scorer and a star with the New York Knicks, helped Carril recruit Taylor to Princeton.

Often compared to Bradley by the New Jersey media, Taylor averaged 25 points as a junior in 1971-72 before leaving for the riches offered by the ABA.

"There I was, a 20-year-old with a net worth of about $1,000," Taylor said. "They gave me a lot of money."

Taylor signed a four-year deal for more than $500,000 with the Nets.

The first thing he did was purchase a new car.

"I didn't just buy any car," he said. "I bought the fastest Jaguar."

And he stayed in the fast lane, beating out George Gervin, a future Hall of Famer, for ABA rookie of the year in 1972-73 and embarking on a 10-year pro career that included stints with the Kansas City Kings and Denver Nuggets.

It's the kind of experience that makes it hard for a high school player to second-guess her coach.

"I think [the players] have an endless reservoir of respect for his knowledge of the game," said Tom Hudnut, Harvard-Westlake's headmaster.

And his ability.

"He's still in incredible shape," junior forward L'Tanya Robnett said of Taylor. "He kills us. He'll be practicing against us, steal the ball and go through all five of us like we were nothing."

Said junior forward Rolake Bamgbose: "Everything he's said, I hear it in my mind all the time, even when he's not around. It's really cool to have a professional coaching us."

Taylor, the third of four siblings, has two brothers who also played professional sports.

Older brother Bruce was an All-Pro defensive back for the San Francisco 49ers, and younger brother Blake was a standout basketball player at Arizona State who played professionally in Switzerland.

Taylor's career was cut short in 1983, when he injured his Achilles' tendon at the age of 30.

He went back to Princeton, earning a degree in political science with a minor in African-American studies, and started a computer consulting business.

"After a while, I had had enough of that and wanted to give something back," he said.

That's when he contacted Harvard-Westlake.

Looking back, Taylor might not have needed all those big names on his resume.

"I had known of Brian for a long time," Hudnut said. "He was a few years behind me at Princeton."

Taylor's assistant coach in 1996-97 was another former NBA star, Orlando Woolridge, who left Harvard-Westlake to become a coach with the L.A. Sparks of the Women's National Basketball Assn.

Taylor, who has five children, from a preschooler to a teenager, says he has no such aspirations.

"I'm doing what I love right now," he said. "For me, I couldn't be happier."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Brian Taylor: BY THE NUMBERS

3: Seasons as Harvard-Westlake girls' coach

3: Number of Mission League titles won at Harvard-Westlake

12: Playoff victories in three seasons as coach

0: Number of playoff wins by Wolverines before Taylor

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