UPDATED: Johnny Taylor joins Will Wade's staff at UTC
Johnny Taylor (Courtesy: GoMocs.com)
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Will Wade described Johnny Taylor's presence around University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball as "hard to miss."
The Mocs' legend is celebrated with a 15-foot high image above the court at the Chattem Practice Facility, countless posters and pictures around McKenzie Arena, and of course, the 1997 Sweet 16 banner that hangs in the rafters.
Now, the "face" of Chattanooga basketball will be on the bench for each and every game.
Wade has added Taylor as a student assistant to his first coaching staff and introduced the Chattanooga native at a press conference Tuesday.
"This is a great opportunity for me and I am happy to offer something to the program, the kids and the community," said Taylor, who graduated from Howard High. "The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga gave me an opportunity once before when there was a point and time that I didn't have a school, but UTC stepped up, brought me in and treated me like one of its own.
"I want to give back what I can."
The 6-foot-7 forward came to UTC as a junior college transfer in 1995 before emerging as a leader during the Mocs' historic run to the Sweet 16 under Mac McCarthy in 1997.
The Chattanooga native left school just a few credits shy of graduating during his senior year to train for the NBA Draft. His decision paid off when he became the program's first-ever first-round NBA draft pick, going to the Orlando Magic with the 17th overall selection in the '97 draft.
He now returns as a student assistant while he finishes his undergraduate degree.
"It goes without saying that we are thrilled that he is back in Chattanooga," Wade said. "We are thrilled that he wants to be a part of the program and happy to have him within the program. He is going to serve as a mentor for our guys and he is going to spend a ton of time around our players.
"One thing about our players is that they all want to make it to the NBA or play overseas, and he has been there. He is going to be able to tell those guys what they need to know now rather than later. We are thrilled to have him and happy to have him home."
Taylor played four seasons in the NBA with the Magic and Denver Nuggets before heading overseas, where he won several championships in an impressive and stable career.
While he enjoyed his journey across 16 years as a pro, he admitted it kept him away from home. He was last on campus two years ago, noticing the newly-built practice facility while driving through.
He admitted he has not seen a Mocs' game in person since his last game in 1997.
"My mom has said for year that she wished I would just come back home, and I wanted to come back home, but my family and everyone is in Orlando and things like that," Taylor said. "It's going to be different, but this way she is going to get to see her grandkids a lot more and I will be running around the house for a little while so she will really enjoy that."
Taylor will be limited in some capacities as a student assistant and will not be allowed to recruit off-campus for the program, but he can work like a normal coach in practice and will be behind the bench for all games, home and away.
He said it wasn't always his plan to become a coach, but instead a passion that developed as he matured in the game.
"The older I got, the more I started playing with a lot of younger guys. I found myself mentoring and telling younger players how to do things differently, and the more I did it the more they told me I should think about coaching," he said. "I thought that was a pretty good idea so probably five or six years ago that seed was planted. Once I was finished playing, I was going to work in that area to coach and add another chapter to my resume.
"I have been quite a few places and been gone a long time, but the timing was just right for me to come back home and give back to the school that embraced me."
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