Myah Taylor has felt like a member of the Mississippi State women’s basketball family for the better part of the last three years.
When you’re an up-and-coming basketball standout who has attracted national attention, it’s no wonder that MSU coach Vic Schaefer and members of his coaching staff would stay hot on your trail and work hard at building a relationship with you, your family, and your coaches.
On Wednesday, Taylor, a junior at Olive Branch High School, said the Bulldogs’ commitment and “loyalty” to her were key factors in her decision to give a verbal commitment to attend MSU. The 5-foot-7 point guard, who is the state of Mississippi’s reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, made the commitment in a ceremony at the school. The verbal pledge is non-binding. Taylor won’t be able to sign an official National Letter of Intent until early in her senior year in 2016.
But Taylor doesn’t feel nervous about waiting that long to make it official. She was pictured at the signing with a white cowbell she said she purchased from a store in Olive Branch about a week-and-a-half ago. She said Schaefer and the Bulldogs have been recruiting her since she was in the eighth grade, and that she remembers playing in Amateur Athletic Union games as late as 11 p.m. and seeing a coach from MSU as the only one there watching her. She also recalled seeing the entire MSU coaching staff attending her team’s Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state title game against Horn Lake last season.
“I felt like I was already a part of Mississippi State,” Taylor said Wednesday night en route to a training session with her father, John. “They showed huge interest in me and came to a lot of my games.”
Taylor averaged 18 points, 8.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 4.6 steals as a sophomore last season to help Olive Branch finish 32-2 and runner-up to Horn Lake for the second-straight year. Her commitment means MSU has signed or will have the past two state Gatorade Players of the Year (Victoria Vivians won the award in 2011-12 and 2013-14) in its program.
Schaefer can’t comment about Taylor until he receives a signed NLI, but recruiting analysts who have seen Taylor and coaches who have worked with her agreed she will be a “perfect fit” with the Bulldogs.
Olive Branch High girls basketball coach Blake Jones said MSU, Ole Miss, and Southern Mississippi all were involved with Taylor, as were schools like Baylor, Wake Forest, Alabama, and Vanderbilt. He said Taylor visited all of the schools and that the support MSU showed Taylor made a difference. He said his team has attended MSU’s team camp for the past three years, so it is easy to see why Taylor picked the Bulldogs.
“He basketball IQ and her common knowledge of the game and everything else in life will carry her,” Jones said. “She is a straight-A student who already has qualified through the Clearinghouse. She is basketball oriented. She is in the National Honor Society. MSU is getting the full package.”
Jones said Taylor will “buy in completely” to whatever role Schaefer has envisioned for her. He said Taylor never has been about individual attention or accolades and is driven to do what is best for the team she is playing on, whether that is Olive Branch High or her Alabama Southern Starz AAU team.
When asked about Taylor’s strength, Jones’ answer accentuated that point.
“(Her strength) is her willingness to be a leader and a team player and speak her mind and to make everybody around her better,” Jones said. “She not only wants to get better, but she also she wants to make people around her better.
“I can’t speak of any weaknesses. The only thing she will have to do is turn into a SEC player, and I think she is ready right now.”
Doug Bush, Taylor’s coach with the Southern Starz for the past year-and-a-half, agrees. He said he has coached Taylor since she joined the program in the last half of the summer in 2014 and all of this year. He feels MSU is an “ideal situation” for Taylor because in addition to her offensive talents, she also is an exceptional defender, which he believes will fit in nicely with Schaefer’s defensive philosophy.
“She is a really gifted,” Bush said. “She can handle the ball and control the game. She is very explosive, especially going to her left off the dribble. She has an uncanny ability to deliver the basketball to the right person in the right place. She sees windows or passing lanes that a lot of kids don’t see. She can kind of see ahead of the play. She has a nice pull-up and mid-range shot, and has an effective 3-point shot as well.
“There are a lot of kids who claim to be a point guard and want to be a point guard, but she is a true point guard.”
Bush believes Taylor’s profile on the national scene will continue to grow. He said she fared well in May when she was invited to the USA Basketball Under-16 team trials in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Even though Taylor didn’t make the final 12-player cut, he said she made it to the second-to-last cut, which pared the field to less than 40 players, and showed a lot of potential.
National recruiting analysts Dan Olson, of espnW/HoopGurlz and the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, and Bret McCormick, of All-Star Girls Report, have seen Taylor plenty of times and been impressed with her ability. Olson has Taylor rated the No. 42 player (No. 13 point guard) in the Class of 2017, while McCormick has Taylor as the No. 45 player in the class and the No. 10 point guard.
“She is an athletic point guard tailor-made for the SEC because of her speed, explosiveness, and ability to create in the up-tempo game and to find her own shot in a half-court game,” said Olson, who is a former college coach. “She is tough-to-contain type of player because she is elusive off the dribble.”
Said McCormick, “She is a good athlete who is very skilled. She loves to play and to train and get in the gym and get better. She doesn’t have too many weaknesses. She is a good passer who sees the floor well and has a good step-back jumper and is a good 3-point shooter. She is a good kid.”
Taylor said she intended to make a verbal commitment prior to her junior season because she wanted to concentrate on basketball for the next two seasons. She said the decision would “relieve a lot of pressure” and help her “become a better teammate.”
The addition of Taylor could give MSU a loaded backcourt for the 2017-18 season. Morgan William and transfer Roshunda Johnson would be seniors, while Jazzmun Holmes would be a junior.
Taylor said she likes the fact that Schaefer lets his guards play and that he has a lot of trust in them to make the right decisions. She feels that fits her style well and was another reason she picked MSU. With the decision out of the way, Taylor will have plenty of time to concentrate on her high school career and ringing the two cowbells — a white one and a pink one given to her by a teammate’s parents — to support the Bulldogs.
“It was a hard decision, but one thing that set me apart was that I already envisioned myself at Mississippi State,” Taylor said. “I felt like it was where my heart wanted to go.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.