How Ryan Taylor went from mother’s house to Warriors minicamp

Ryan Taylor long harbored designs on playing basketball overseas, not in the NBA.

Some of his earliest memories are of heaving up shots during halftime of games in Slovenia while his father, John, was on a professional team there. After John died in an accident when Ryan was 8, Ryan often daydreamed about emulating his late dad’s globetrotting lifestyle.

“I always kind of wanted to follow in his footsteps,” said Taylor, now a shooting guard for the Santa Cruz Warriors. “That was honestly the goal. The NBA wasn’t even really on my radar.”

But there Taylor was two weeks ago, scoring a team-high 15 points on five 3-pointers in a scrimmage at Chase Center as part of Golden State’s offseason minicamp. One of five Santa Cruz players invited to the campus-like bubble in San Francisco, Taylor, 25, showed enough to make a strong case for a training-camp invite in coming months with the NBA club.

His length and shooting range might be enough for him to contend for one of the Warriors’ two two-way contracts, which would allow him to spend up to 45 days with Golden State before playing the rest of the season with its G League affiliate in Santa Cruz. And that’s not the best news: Taylor’s worst-case scenario, a lucrative contract overseas, would still be a goal realized.

Just 10 months ago, such possibilities seemed unrealistic. Fresh off a disastrous grad year at Northwestern, Taylor had gone in the first round of the G League draft to the Lakeland Magic, only to get cut less than two weeks later and move back into his mother’s house in Crown Point, Ind.

Mired in a deep depression, he struggled to focus during daily workouts at the local YMCA. His agent told Taylor, who’d received plenty of attention from NBA scouts while averaging 21.3 points per game and shooting 42.4% from 3-point range as a junior at Evansville, that no teams — not even ones in the G League — were interested in him.

Some days, he cried on the couch while talking to his mom about all that had gone wrong. Then, just as Taylor was about to fire his agent, he learned that Santa Cruz wanted him in for a workout. After impressing general manager Ryan Atkinson with his textbook jumper in drills, Taylor signed and shot 43% from 3-point range in 22 games.

Last month, when Taylor received his invite to the NBA club’s minicamp, he could hardly believe his good fortune. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins guarded him in drills. After watching Taylor hit those five 3-pointers, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr told reporters, “Ryan really caught fire today. It was fun to see.”

“It’s surreal, to be honest,” Taylor said in a recent phone interview. “A year ago, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to play basketball again.”

John Taylor, a 6-foot-6 forward who embraced contact and bullied bigger opponents in the post, had averaged 13.6 points per game as a senior at Butler before embarking on a basketball odyssey that included stops in Finland, Portugal and Slovenia. Free time was spent teaching young Ryan the proper release on his jump shot and a sound defensive stance.

One day, when Ryan was in third grade, John was working on his 1996 Chevy Impala when he forgot to crack the garage door open. The fumes from the exhaust pipe got into his bloodstream. Realizing what was happening, John tried to jiggle the door open and escape into the house.

It was too late. Shortly thereafter, John was found dead on the stairs from carbon monoxide poisoning. He was 31.

To navigate the grief of losing his dad, Ryan spent hours getting up shots at parks throughout Gary, Ind. His jersey number was always 14 — same as John’s. After a year of prep school in rural Wisconsin, Taylor enrolled at Ohio University, the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship.

Unhappy with certain ways the program was run, he transferred after his freshman season to Evansville and quickly blossomed into the Purple Aces’ go-to option. In April 2018, less than a month after Evansville fired head coach Marty Simmons, Taylor transferred to Northwestern in hopes of boosting his NBA stock.

But he never got comfortable in the Wildcats’ system, averaging just 9.8 points on 35.3% shooting (33.3% from 3-point range). In mid-December, when Taylor signed with Santa Cruz for the rest of the season, he just wanted to remind himself that he could play at a high level.

After barely playing his first handful of games for the Warriors, he came off the bench to score 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting (5-for-8 from 3-point range) in a win over the Texas Legends. Over the next 10 games, he scored in double digits seven times.

“I definitely think he has a chance to play professionally for a long time,” Atkinson said. “He’s a legit 6-6, and he’s pretty athletic. But ultimately, what gets him in the door is his shooting.”

In the week since Taylor left minicamp, he has looked at pictures from time to time of him sharing a floor with Thompson and Wiggins. Those photos serve as a reminder that, in less than a year, Taylor went from his mom’s couch to an NBA court.

Playing overseas will have to wait.

“I now know that I’ll have that opportunity, which is really nice,” Taylor said. “But right now, I want to see what happens with the Warriors.”

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Con_Chron

Source Article