Back in New York, Texas’ Celeste Taylor still grinding

Nick Moyle

AUSTIN — The room where Celeste Taylor has been training might not seem like much.

There’s a wall about three steps behind a 3-point line that is cut off by adjoining walls along the wings and a pair of doors with handles that would be wholly unpleasant to smack into. But the ceiling is high enough to allow for plenty of arc on jumpers. And the hardwood court is smoother than anything she’d be able to find outdoors. And safer.

“My trainer happens to know someone who has kind of a small court in his house, and it has a hoop,” the Texas point guard said. “So I’m just blessed and honored to have a gym to shoot at, somewhere to go and put up shots.”

Taylor has been back home in Valley Stream, N.Y., for a couple months now. Once the Texas campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she journeyed back into one of the areas hardest hit by a virus that has now caused more than 110,000 deaths in the United States alone.

Thankfully, Taylor and her family have remained safe.

“Everybody is doing well,” Taylor said. “We’re just trying to stay safe, stay together. If we go out to the grocery store, we wear our masks. Other than that, we’re just spending a lot of quality time together and trying to get through it together.”

Three weeks after Taylor’s first college season came to an abrupt end, UT athletic director Chris Del Conte opted not to renew the contract of longtime coach Karen Aston. Just two days later, the Longhorns lured Vic Schaefer√ and his staff away from Mississippi State.

That same day, Taylor pinned a tweet to the top of her Twitter profile avowing her commitment to the program even with Aston now gone.

“I’m super excited,” Taylor said. “Coach Karen recruited me from the minute she saw me, so I had a really great relationship with that coaching staff. But I’m so excited to get into this new system, new style of play and just play under coach Schaefer and the rest of his coaching staff.

“They’ve been a tremendous help. I think they’re one of the greatest coaching staffs in the country.”

Obviously, the new staff and players have been unable to get together in person. Contact has been limited to FaceTime, Zoom sessions, text messages, group chats and good old-fashioned phone calls.

Still, Taylor has begun to get a feel for what her new head coach is all about. And she’s confident she will fit into Schaefer’s scheme just fine.

“I mean, he loves defense and I feel like I’m a really great defender,” Taylor said. “I’m only going to get better as the years go by.

“And he likes to get out in transition — that’s my game. I like to run the floor, get in the open court, that four-out, on-in, just being able to move the ball and get to the rim whenever possible and share the ball. So I’m excited to learn his style and everything he’s going to incorporate into this team.”

Even with players scattered and coaches still in Starkville, Miss., Taylor said it’s been easy to feed off the energy emitted by the new staff. And given Schaefer’s Bulldogs appeared in consecutive NCAA national title games, she has been eager to devour every single thing the coaches have to offer.

“As players we want to have coaches who are into it and energized and want it just as much as we do,” Taylor said. “That’s really important in a player and coach’s relationship. Just wanting to win together, wanting to be in it together, go through the mud, go through the hard times together and come out on top. So I’m really excited that we have this staff that’s really into it and motivated and just as passionate as we are about the game.”

Schaefer views Taylor as a foundational piece for this Longhorns team. Last year a freshman on a senior-laden team, she averaged 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and connected on a team-high 31 3-pointers.

With junior big and All-Big 12 first-team performer Charli Collier back, Texas will have one of the best inside-outside combinations in the conference.

But until the team is allowed to come together on campus once again in July, Taylor will keep grinding in that room that moonlights as a court, preparing to guide a Texas team with lofty aspirations.

“I think (Charlie and Celeste) are a good core to build around,” associate head coach Johnnie Harris said. “And I think we’re putting pieces around them. I know a lot of people are saying that, you know, you guys will be there in a ‘couple of years.’ We’re not trying to wait a couple of years. We’re trying to get there now.”

nmoyle@express-news.net

Twitter: @NRMoyle


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