King of the Monarchs Is Not Beloved by All
A missed layup brought out the Taylor King scowl, his anger and brooding frustration glowing like the red on his face. He dropped to his knees, trying to shake off the effects of imperfection.
“I’m not mad at anybody,” King says. “I’m just mad at myself. That’s what I’m trying to work on, getting over that, trying to move on to the next possession or it will stick with me.”
For three years, King has been under the microscope at Santa Ana Mater Dei. From the day he stepped foot on campus, he was projected to be the best basketball player in school history, and he hasn’t disappointed.
He’s on his way to scoring more than 3,000 career points, an accomplishment only four players in state history have achieved. Every season, he has gotten stronger and better. Every practice, he shows up on time, gives his best, then practices even more on his own.
“He’s got an unbelievable work ethic,” Coach Gary McKnight says.
He has played on two Southern Section championship teams. But for the second consecutive year, he and his Mater Dei teammates suffered dejection in the state Division II championship game Friday night. The Monarchs lost to Palo Alto, 51-47, at Arco Arena. King scored 23 points, but he made only six of 26 shots.
He has a scholarship waiting for him at Duke in the fall of 2007. At 6 feet 7, with long arms and the ability to shoot left- or right-handed, he’s a legitimate scoring machine. His average has improved from 14.2 points as a freshman to 24.7 last season and 26.5 this season.
His three-point shooting range extends as far as it takes to get off an open shot. He had 97 three-pointers this season, 104 last year and 66 as a freshman.
“He has so many ways to get shots up, and you have to guard all of them,” says forward Drew Viney, whose Villa Park team lost to the Monarchs in the section and Southern California Regional finals.
With 2,229 career points, King is closing on the school record of 2,456 points by Tom Lewis, considered the best player in school history.
As a rebounder, King reached double figures in 24 of 36 games, averaging 12.3.
And yet, few 17-year-olds receive more bashing on the Internet or in the bleachers than King. He’s treated as if he’s already a college or NBA player, even though he’s only a high school junior.
Whether because of jealousy, body language or excessive expectations, he’s subjected to comments so cruel that it’s surprising he doesn’t punch someone in the face in response.
“He has to take it as a compliment instead of a negative,” King’s father, Steve, says. “Obviously, I don’t want people to take shots at him.”
Finding fault in players who rank among the best at their positions seems to be part of sports culture.
Magic Johnson couldn’t shoot, Michael Jordan couldn’t win the big one and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar couldn’t give 100%.
At various stages of their careers, three of the greatest players in basketball history had their faults -- if you believe their critics.
As for King, some have said he shoots too much, doesn’t have enough quickness to guard someone smaller than him and is overrated.
“I’m trying to figure out who wouldn’t want a guy who averages 26 points,” McKnight says. “He’s just a great kid. He’s relentless at practice and in games.”
King is in constant motion during games, always finding ways to contribute. He had 84 assists, 46 steals and 39 blocked shots this season, showing he’s more than just a scorer.
His signature wave of his arms when he wants the ball might cause some to conclude he’s a ball hog. It’s as misunderstood as his scowl.
“I think the scowl hurts him at times, but to be honest, it’s his way of showing he’s upset at himself, and he works harder,” McKnight says.
King’s strive for perfection sometimes causes him to lose focus and dwell too much on the past. He thinks he should make every shot.
“I’m my toughest critic,” he says. “When I make a mistake, miss a shot or do something that I thought I should have done but didn’t, I get mad at myself.”
During a recruiting trip to Duke, King spoke with J.J. Redick, the Blue Devils’ All-American guard who has his own critics.
“He told me to play my game and don’t worry what anyone else says,” King says.
One day, even King’s critics will come to appreciate how truly exceptional he is.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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