RedHawks senior earns The Regional-Reporter's player of year honor
By Jason Maholy
There was a moment prior to the start of the 2017-18 basketball season that Morgan Taylor said was “gut-check time” for him and his Marist teammates.
Gone from the team that won 27 games the previous season were graduates Justin Brown and Bobby Hawkinson, who had been the team's top two interior defenders; and reigning East Suburban Catholic League Player of the Year Maurice Commander and Chase Robinson, who transferred to Curie and Riverside-Brookfield, respectively. The RedHawks would also have to integrate into the starting lineup Jack Ellison, a senior transfer from Chicago Christian, who while talented would have to build chemistry with his new teammates.
Taylor, showing the maturity of a young man who had played on the varsity squad since his sophomore season, knew there was nothing he could do about what was lost.
“The only thing I could do, personally, was focus on the team we had here that would be playing this season,” Taylor said. “It was gut-check time as to how we wanted the season to go, and we said we wanted to have one of the best seasons (in Marist history).”
Taylor and his teammates worked to improve their games and chemistry during summer league contests and practices, and once the winter season began devoted themselves to early-morning workouts. Individually, Taylor worked on the holes in his game that limited him during his junior season, and improved on the things he already did do well.
“Free throws, jump shots, defense – it was just working on trying to be the best two way player I had to be for the team to win,” he said. “It was just a lot of effort put in, overall. A lot of long games at the gym over the summer... We knew how much work we'd have to put in to be successful.”
And the RedHawks went on to have one of the best seasons in school history, matching their 27 wins from the prior season and advancing to a Class 4A sectional final, where they came within a couple plays of pulling off what would have been an epic upset of a Simeon team stacked with Division I recruits.
For his contributions – which included standout play and embracing the role of team leader – Taylor is The Regional/Reporter 2018 Player of the Year. The senior guard averaged 21.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 steal per game, while shooting 53 percent of his shots from the field and 70 percent from the charity stripe. He earned ESCC co-player of the year honors, and finished his career as Marist's single-season record-holder in points (698) and sixth in career points (1,212).
But Taylor never focused on stuffing the stat box or on his individual accomplishments. His only goal was to help his team win.
“I try to focus on the team, and by doing that I had a lot of personal success, but my main goal was just focusing on the team and doing whatever the team needed,” he said.
The unity he and his teammates forged throughout the season, and the success to which that cohesion contributed, is something he will always cherish.
“Coming into the season we weren't talked about a lot, but we couldn't really focus on that, as a team we made the decision to focus on ourselves and just continued to get better throughout the season, and just have the confidence in each other and show what we could do.”
Taylor has been playing organized basketball since he was 5 years old, and in his earliest days on the hardcourt developed his game playing at the Blue Island Recreation Center. The game had always been his favorite sport, and upon entering high school he realized it was what he wanted to do and at what he wanted to excel.
He did just that, playing on varsity as a sophomore and gaining valuable experience that would pay dividends down the road.
“I had to take something from each year,” he said. “I realized you have to go into games with confidence, and that's something I tried to take with me into my senior year, not taking anything lightly, and knowing it can be done.”
Taylor will leave Marist with the core values instilled into him as a member of the RedHawks, including community, commitment, passion and unselfishness – all of which he has tried to incorporate into his life outside of basketball and will carry with him beyond high school, he said.
“Those are things you learn with a team and learn with other guys, and implement it in your life long after basketball,” he added.
His goal is to play basketball in college, though he does not yet know where he will attend or whether he will play. Montana and Chicago State are among the schools to which he has spoken.
“Basketball is something I really love doing and want to keep doing as much as possible,” he said.