McALESTER — McAlester senior Austin Taylor is no stranger to injury. He suffered a broken ankle his junior year, missing much of the 2012-13 basketball season, but eventually recovered enough to participate in offseason basketball workouts and scrimmages.
At a summer-league game last June, Taylor injured the meniscus and anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, and he’s been off the court ever since.
“I tore my MCL playing against Paris (Texas), and then came back and didn’t know I tore it,” Taylor said. “Tried to play on it a week later, and ended up tearing my MCL and my meniscus. ... I could walk on it and run on it, and I jumped and landed wrong and it just popped out on me.”
Taylor said he’s grown up in McAlester and played basketball since the first grade. He joined Tannehill’s basketball team in the third grade, playing with future Buffs teammates Eli Boyle and Zach Skimbo and making it to the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools state championship during Taylor’s seventh-grade year.
Taylor came to McAlester High School in the ninth grade. He said dealing with a much larger school wasn’t easy, but “basketball, it always came pretty naturally to me, so it really wasn’t that big a deal.”
After his freshman year, Taylor moved up to the junior varsity and began working with coach Chris Zike. Taylor had already known Zike from playing golf in the spring of his freshman year, and Taylor said he’s enjoyed having Zike take over the varsity basketball program this season.
“We’ve always been pretty good friends and (had) a student-teacher relationship,” Taylor said of Zike.
“We were a JV team playing for Coach Zike at Ardmore (two seasons ago), and we beat Ardmore by double digits at Ardmore. That was one of the first times that’s been done in awhile by McAlester teams.”
Not yet cleared to play, Taylor said he’s alternated between lifting and strength-training his knee and practicing in a limited capacity with the Buffs. He had surgery on Sept. 13, then went through a 10-week rehabilitation.
“When they put a two-pound ankle weight on you and you can barely pick it up, it was definitely a change of mind,” Taylor.
“Watching (the Buffs) practice made me want to play more and more, so it kept me working hard.”
Kept on the sidelines for every Buffs game so far, Taylor’s watched his team go 4-6. The Buffs were ranked 18th in Class 5A as of Thursday, and Taylor said this team has a chance at a deep playoff run.
When healthy, Taylor primarily plays shooting guard. Despite the position’s name, Taylor said scoring has never been his favorite part of basketball.
“I like to get other people shots,” Taylor said. “I especially like getting rebounds.”
Considering Steve Nash, a Los Angeles Lakers point guard known more for his passing than his shooting, is Taylor’s favorite player, Taylor’s preferences in basketball make sense.
Taylor said he has a doctor’s appointment scheduled for Feb. 4, and he could be cleared to play Ada that night. That’ll give him five games with the Buffs before the playoffs.
Once basketball season ends, Taylor will trade in his sneakers for golf shoes. He said he first started golfing with his grandfather, and last year earned the Buffs’ fifth bag and got to compete in tournaments.
Taylor said his grandfather, Kyle Adams of Abilene, Texas, has been a big influence on his life. Adams worked in the oil fields, and Taylor said he wants to double-major in petroleum engineering and mathematics when he goes to college next year.
Taylor said he’s narrowed his list of potential colleges to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, the University of Tulsa or the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
“I really like UCO’s campus, and TU is ranked top-10 in the nation in petroleum engineering degrees,” Taylor said. “And then, OU has a good department, and they’ve contacted me a lot.”
To help prepare for college, Taylor said he’s currently taking or has already taken 10 classes at Eastern Oklahoma State College’s McAlester campus. When he isn’t in class or on the court, Taylor said he enjoys hunting, especially with his father.
“I was supposed to go elk hunting for my senior trip, but I couldn’t (because of) my ACL,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t walk up the mountain. I’m a big duck hunter though.”
Because of his injuries, Taylor may only get to wear the black and gold jersey for a few games this season. But however many he gets, Taylor’s sure to make them count.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.