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Confident, adaptable and 'the most heart in the building': Terry Taylor stays on call, rejoins Mad Ants and has a career game
He leads the G League in points per game (29.8) and piles up double-doubles. Taylor shares how his game has evolved and what it's like going between teams.
Terry Taylor’s day ended late and started early on Tuesday. He returned home from New Orleans with the Pacers on their charter flight, landing just before 2:00 a.m., which meant Taylor wasn’t at his downtown apartment until after 2:30 a.m.
He didn’t take the time to unpack. He brushed his teeth and went right to bed. Then by 9 a.m., he was up and ready to make his way to the arena for a noon tip-off.
It was game day, only with another team.
For six months now, the undrafted rookie out of Austin Peay has been inside the Pacers’ program — first in summer league, then Pacers training camp, and now splitting time with the Mad Ants after being signed to a two-way contract on December 15.
“I got to be adaptable and that was what I was able to do,” Taylor said Tuesday afternoon after he scored a career-high 39 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a win over the Maine Celtics at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Three members of the Pacers front office were in the stands watching.
Taylor did most of his work in the first three quarters to keep them in it, trailing by as many as 16 points. The Mad Ants are calling Indy home for the first time, living and practicing in town and playing nine home games at The Fieldhouse. In this day game, they never led in regulation. It was an and-1 by Taylor with 12.6 seconds left in regulation that forced overtime.
Justin Anderson, who spent time with the Pacers, scored 23 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and guard Gabe York hit five 3s and scored all five of their points in OT for a bizarre, come-from-behind win, 130-129.
“We got a lot of guys that can lead this team in different categories and in different ways,” Taylor added.
He hasn't played much with the Pacers. Just one minute against the Nets and five minutes against the Celtics. But he’s on standby and trying to absorb everything he can this season. When several Pacers entered the health and safety protocols in late December, he was needed. And when more Pacers were injured last week, he was needed.
Taylor wasn’t expecting to join the Pacers on their five-game road trip, but he got the call. Last Wednesday, he had just played 41 minutes and scored 35 points in a win at Long Island. Some of the guys got some food afterward so he didn’t return to his hotel room until after midnight.
Taylor was later woken up by a phone call from athletic trainer Ayami Sato, who informed him that he had to catch a car service to the airport at 9 a.m. for a 5.5-hour transcontinental flight to San Francisco to join the Pacers. They were down all five starters and needed all the help they could get.
“That was crazy,” Taylor said with a big smile. “It was different, I’ve never experienced nothing like it, but I got to be adaptable and resilient. Shout-out to Ayami. She’s a trooper, man. Without her, we’d be a sinking ship right now.”
That’s the pressure of being one of the team’s top G League players; Taylor is always on call. Despite the early wake-up call and cross-country flight, Mad Ants head coach Tom Hankins told him, “Worst-case scenario, you’ve got a front-row seat to watch our guys and Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson).”
The shorthanded Pacers upset the Warriors on national TV, winning in overtime 121-117.
“He’s just hungry to play, he loves to play,” Hankins said. “He played all around the basket his entire college career, and now he’s expanding it and getting out on the floor and handling the ball.”
Taylor is averaging a G League-high 29.8 points per game and he’s fourth in rebounds (12). He’s piling up double-doubles, recording his 15th of the season on Tuesday.
“I’ve always had good touch from the outside, but I had to work on the mechanics,” he said. “Being in camp and summer league with the Pacers really helped because I got to be around high-level guys and I could see that I got to get my shot off quicker and tweaking the little things help a lot.”
He’s had to learn on the fly as well — different coverages, play calls and the tendencies of his teammates. “I’m proud of myself about that because that’s hard to do — to go from one team to another and from different cities and bounce back and forth,” he added.
When he’s with the Pacers, he works with Calbert Cheaney, an assistant coach for player development. Cheaney, the all-time leading scorer in the Big Ten, is also left-handed. He’s kept things positive with Taylor and given him many tips along the way.
Taylor shared that he’s a visual person and so he takes in a lot in by watching the Pacers — seeing how they adjust to different schemes and calls. The importance of communication has been drilled into him by both teams, and then it’s his responsibility to help relay it to teammates to ensure they’re on the same page.
Pacers assistant Jenny Boucek has increased the team’s understanding for how younger players prefer to learn and communicate. Like how they, generally, have shorter attention spans. So sometimes the Pacers will show video at practice of what they want to accomplish rather than drawing it up and before walking through it, or they’ll break for film several times … but for no more than 10 minutes at a time.
The Mad Ants, meanwhile, are undersized and lean heavily on Taylor. They don’t have any big names or stars, unlike the Celtics, for example, who have Juwan Morgan, Denzel Valentine, Bruno Fernando and Luke Kornet.
“I’ve always played in the post so I just got to be a little bit more active than everybody else,” said Taylor, who’s listed at 6-foot-5. “And I got that chip on my shoulder because everybody always questions my size. But they don’t understand I got the most heart in the building. Like I’m going to fight you every possession no matter what, and then you got to come see me on the offensive end.
“I got six fouls; can’t take them home with me.”
That’s a message instilled in him by assistant coach Maurice Baker. The guidance to be adaptable was from general manager Chris Taylor, who often repeats the phrase “stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”
Like Hankins said, Taylor listens, learns and takes it to heart. His coachability is appreciated.
“I’m not much of a rah-rah guy,” Taylor said. “I’m quiet and you can ask anybody, I don't really say too much. I play bigger than what I am and I’m always gonna go hard and always telling my teammates like, ‘Yo, Come on, we got this.’ We’re always going to be undersized, but we got the most heart and we’re gonna fight everybody until the end. And they depend on me to do a lot of stuff, make big rebounds, make big defensive stops.”
Taylor averaged 21.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season at Austin Peay and took a big leap his sophomore season.
“When I get going like that,” he said, “I just feel like nobody can stop me. That’s just the confidence and the reps and the behind-the-scenes work that nobody sees. I stay in the gym and I’m always constantly trying to perfect my craft and trying to be the best version of me.
“I’m trying to prove myself every day that I can play amongst the best players.”
Taylor, 22, was the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year the past two seasons. He impressed the Pacers at summer league and continues to with his play for the Mad Ants.
“The improvement he’s shown, going 4 for 7 from 3 (today), he just keeps getting better and better,” Hankins said. “He’s phenomenal around the basket, he works really hard, he’s a great kid, he’s extremely coachable.”
Taylor will be with the Mad Ants on Thursday when they play another noon game against the Maine Celtics at The Fieldhouse. But first, he may suit up for the Pacers on Wednesday, if they need him.
And if they do, he’ll be ready.