Stress rehearsal


Marshall Taylor spent his summer vacation living out of a suitcase — or at least it seemed that way.

But instead of sightseeing in Las Vegas, New York and Florida, he was showing others a thing or two.

Taylor dribbled, shot, passed and rebounded his way through Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournaments before an audience of college scouts and recruiters.

Partly as a result of his summer showcase, the West Catholic senior is drawing Division I interest from Wagner, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and several schools from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Taylor, a returning All-Catholic guard, is thrilled with his off-season exposure.

"It’s really big," said the athlete, who plays for Philly MJC. "It’s the biggest thing I could’ve done to get noticed."

The resident of 13th and Moore streets isn’t quite finished drawing attention to himself. His 12-plus points per game over the last two seasons weren’t enough to push the Burrs into the postseason. Now a varsity veteran, Taylor said he is ready to lead the senior-laden squad to Catholic League glory.

"It’s my last year, so I want to help my team get into the playoffs," he said.

Taylor enjoyed doing just that during a trial run this summer.

When he wasn’t traveling with his tournament squad, Taylor joined his West Catholic teammates in the Girard College Summer League. The Burrs advanced to the semifinals, where they lost by four points to Roman Catholic. Still, Taylor said the contest was a big confidence booster.

"[The Roman Catholic game] says that we can play with anybody with the team we’ve got now," he said.

The performance is even more impressive given that the Burrs never seemed to have their entire team together. Taylor missed five summer league games, while other players skipped contests due to work and vacations. Despite missing several games, the guard’s summer performance left a lasting impression with coach Bill Ludlow.

"Marshall Taylor had an excellent summer," the coach said. "He is stronger, more mature and more confident. He played like a senior should play."

Taylor, who played Catholic Youth Organization basketball at the now-closed St. Charles Borromeo, has shown his leadership by finishing the last two seasons ranked among the Southern Division’s top scorers. In his sophomore year, he led the Burrs’ offense with 12.6 points per game, but the results didn’t show in the team’s 2-12 record. Taylor continued to be a key contributor last season with his 12.9 points per game, but once again his squad fell short of its postseason expectations with a 4-10 record.

So why should this year be any different? Experienced seniors. Taylor is one of at least five varsity seniors expected to see substantial minutes this season. Teammate Rob Latimer is back to provide major offensive support after leading the Burrs with 13.9 points per game last season.

This summer, Taylor said his fellow players made strides, and he promises to keep them focused as they prepare for the regular season.

"I just tell them to play hard all the time," said the athlete.

Taylor’s favorite NBA player is Kobe Bryant. The star guard’s legal troubles notwithstanding, Taylor said he likes the way Bryant carries himself.

The local player will try to create his own imposing reputation with the Catholic League competition. No West Catholic team has claimed a title since 1969, when the likes of Jim Lynam, Herb Magee and Jim Boyle wore the Burrs uniform.

Taylor is well aware the road to the championship will be tough, as Roman Catholic, St. John Neumann and last year’s champion, St. Joseph’s Prep, all vie for South Division playoff spots. But the athlete, who plays pickup games at Chew Playground, 19th Street and Washington Avenue, has a lot of faith in West Catholic’s chances.

"My teammates are always willing to sacrifice to win a game," he said.

Win or lose, potential college suitors will be watching Taylor, who doesn’t yet have a top school choice. Once basketball season ends, the standout guard can trim the list and visit schools as he weighs his decision. For now, he is just enjoying his moment in the spotlight.

"It’s kind of fun and exciting," he said. "I never expected this."

Whichever school Taylor ends up picking, his coach foresees a bright future for the player.

"The more experience he gets, the better he is going to be," Ludlow said.