This year’s Manhattan High boys’ basketball team has a distinct football flavor that’s hard to miss on game nights.
That trend excludes Jonathon Taylor.
Faced with a choice after middle school, the senior point guard took his talents to the soccer field, leaving football behind. The move turned out to be a good choice, as Taylor was a starting midfielder this year for a solid Indian team.
Now that the season has turned to basketball, Taylor joins Jacob Holloway, Chris Hudgins and Winston Dimel, all football players, in the starting lineup for Manhattan High.
“I stay conditioned all year round, because after basketball is soccer, then summer basketball, then back to soccer,” Taylor said. “And good footwork on the soccer side of things and good touch are good, because you use your feet the whole game. Soccer helps a lot in basketball with moving my feet.
“I used to play football in middle school — I just like soccer better.”
As a midfielder, managing the game and distributing the ball were his strengths, and those things remain constant in basketball. Taylor is a pass-first point guard who can get in the lane to open things up for teammates.
“I’m able to incorportate everyone, whatever their strength is,” Taylor said. “If someone’s strength is finishing around the basket, I’ll try and get in the paint and dump it down to them. If their strength is an outside shot, I’ll try and kick it out to them and get them an open look.”
Head coach Tim Brooks noticed improvement in Taylor’s game this summer at team camp.
“He really stepped up and realized it was his job to be the leader as a point guard,” Brooks said. “He did it both by example, and vocally, and it was really comforting as a coach to see, because he said a lot of the things that I would have said to players. So we’re kind of on the same page.”
Brooks trusts Taylor with the ball because he makes good decisions. He doesn’t often make unforced turnovers and he lets his offensive game come to him.
“He’s done a great job of pushing the ball in transition,” he said. “I think that he’s done a good job of making decisions. He hasn’t had a game where he’s had high turnovers. The one game he had 10 assists was just outstanding. His all-around game, his ability to get the ball wherever, to get the ball up the floor are good.
“And defensively, he moves his feet tremendously and plays with a lot of energy.”
While Taylor’s shot can be hit-or-miss from long range, the senior has been working to develop consistency as a scorer this year.
“I’ve always been a streaky 3-point shooter, so I’m trying to get that better,” Taylor said. “Also my free throws can be a lot better.”
Taylor hasn’t had any trouble meshing with his football teammates, which was made even tougher with so many of those players primarily playing on JV together a year ago. While the first game of the season didn’t go as well against a veteran team, the results have been positive since, as Taylor’s teammates each figure out their role on this team.
“I think mostly every single year we’ve always had pretty good chemistry and everybody has gotten along well, but this year we’ve got more of a sense of no matter what the score is, we’re not going to quit,” Taylor said. “If we’re up 20, down 20, it doesn’t matter, we’re going to keep playing. We showed that against Derby.”
Taylor’s goals for the year include a longer postseason run.
“Personally, my goal this year is to get farther in the playoffs then we’ve been,” he said. “We’ve been knocked out the last two years in the first round. I definitely want to get past the first two rounds and host at least one game in the playoffs.”
STEPHENS GETTING CLOSER
Brooks is expecting his team to get a boost when sophomore Payton Stephens returns from an ACL injury after the break. The coach didn’t have a specific time frame for when Stephens would return, but is hoping to reintroduce him to game action slowly.