Saturday, November 24, 2012

Catching up with the top scorer in basketball history, Jack Taylor

Setting records is nothing new for the folks at Grinnell College. No one knows this any better than Dave Arseneault.

A former point guard at the school, he set the all-division NCAA record with 34 assists in 2007 while playing for his father, longtime coach David Arseneault. We all know Coach A as the creator of The System, an innovative style of basketball that almost always leads to huge numbers for both teams, the type of eye-popping statistics that create fans and critics alike.

The past few days has seen plenty of both, thanks to Jack Taylor. By now, sports fans everywhere have heard of the sophomore guard for the Pioneers, the one who scored 138 points Tuesday night against Faith Baptist. That total seems just as unbelievable today as it did then.

"After the game, it didn't seem real," Taylor told me Friday night over the phone. He and Coach Dave gave me a call following practice.

It was real, all right. Thanks mostly to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, Taylor's exploits quickly spread around the country, with NBA stars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant all talking about the effort. Taylor was up early the morning after for appearances on "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America," and capped the day with an interview on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," where the host asked Taylor if he planned to break Wilt Chamberlain's "other" record. You know, the one involving 20,000 women.

"It was hilarious, it was hard to answer the questions because I was laughing so much," Taylor said. And for the record, he said he was a long way from approaching the Big Dipper's success with the opposite sex.

The fun hasn't stopped yet. ESPN planned to have a crew at practice Saturday that will stay in town to catch part of Grinnell's game the next day against William Penn University. 

"It's been exhausting," Taylor said. "I don't really know how the NBA players do it every day. I've been doing interviews non-stop, I'm kind of happy they're winding down."

As I said, everything hasn't been rosy. The critics have been numerous, including some from the very outlet that plans to visit the Grinnell campus this weekend. Of course, the naysayers almost are as familiar to the basketball program as the offensive records it creates.

Coach Dave has seen this over the years, most of it directed at his father. He's in the unique position now of answering some of it as someone who helped Taylor set his record.

"There's a saying that any publicity is good publicity," Coach Dave said. "The fact that so many people are talking about our school, it's just really incredible. It is amazing what we were able to do in the span of a few hours that has brought such ridiculous attention."

And that includes those who dismiss it completely.

"Most of those people are pretty uninformed," Coach Dave said. "A lot of them think they know what we do, and they really don't have any clue."

Even as Taylor was setting the record, Coach Dave wasn't exactly sure how it would play out. He thought about taking him out at some point after the point total exceeded 100, and the game was played at such a pace that it was to keep track of exactly where Taylor was.

Finally, the exit strategy became clear. With 3:40 remaining in the game, Taylor swished a 3-pointer for to get to 121 points. He made another the next possession, and then another and another and another and another, all without play stopping.

It was six 3s in the span of of about 2 minutes. When he was fouled and made two free throws, that gave him 138 points, and it was time to come out.

"I think that was the highlight of the game," Taylor said. "I was able to thank my coaches and thank my teammates, and the fans gave me a standing ovation. It felt really nice."

The moment was so special that Coach Dave has watched it about 100 times on tape.

"With each successful 3, the crowd was going a little more bonkers," he said. "When he it that last one, guys on the team are running around the bench. There was a group of fans, I've watched this every time, literally rolling on the bleachers and tackling each other. I'm just happy I left him the game, everything played out perfectly."

Now, the question is what does Taylor -- and Grinnell -- do for an encore. After all, he is only three games into his career at the school after transferring from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse. 

"I don't know what's going to happen," Taylor said. "I'm sure the other teams are going to start throwing double teams at me after this. I think scoring is going to be a lot more difficult."

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