DENVER — I was on a plane headed to Denver’s airport on my way to Los Angeles for the Watkins Awards. On my plane were a bunch of very tall young men in red and grey Southern Utah University (SUU) sweat suits.
As we dismbarked heading to our connecting flights, being the inquisitive reporter that I am, I found a SUU coach (Kenya Crandell) and asked who they were and he told me they had just left Detroit after playing Oakland University.
So I asked him if he had any players from Detroit on the team and he said yes. He took me over to Ramell Taylor, a former Detroit Southeastern basketball player who is now a senior starter for Thunderbirds.
What emerged from our conversation is that this was a unique and special young man who has found redemption and rejuvenation. The 6-foot-5 Taylor played basketball in the Detroit Public School League (PSL) from 2003 to 2005, but dropped out during his senior year.
“I dropped out of high school half way through my senior year,” Taylor recalled. “I played for coach Carlton ‘Moon’ Johnson, but I was such a bonehead. I was all raw potential. I didn’t know much about basketball, but he tried to straighten me out.
“I did not have the grades, so instead of working hard I gave up. Fortunately for me I wasn’t one of those guys that did nothing. I had a few jobs for a few years, but I finally looked in the mirror at about 22 and realized that I needed my high school diploma to get a better job.”
Taylor then decided to join Detroit Job Corps. He recalled how he felt embarrassed being his age and having to submit to others. But he persevered and graduated and also joined the Job Corps basketball team.
“I went there just to get my high school diploma,” he said, “but after joining the basketball team we started winning. We ended up finishing fourth in the nation in the Job Corps tournament. From there I started hearing from coaches that I had potential, but I knew after dropping out of high school I could never get through the NCAA Clearinghouse. So I went to a junior college.”
At Fort Scott Community College in Cedar City, Kansas, Taylor spent two years and found his spirit and passion. He rejuvenated himself and earned academic All-America and second-team All-Jayhawk Conference honors where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting .540 from the floor. Most importantly, he became a Phi Beta Kappa student.
BYU and a few other universities began to look at this Detroiter who turned himself into an honor student earning his associate’s degree in science. Coach Crandell came into Taylor’s recruiting process and sold him on SUU.
“This is my first experience dealing with a young man that had to get his GED,” Crandell told me. “He now has a 3.7 and he speaks volumes of what can be with opportunity, help, direction and people that care about you.
“He is a late bloomer, but I think he has earned an opportunity to play professional basketball overseas. If he continues on his upward path anything is possible. He is a fine young man.”
Taylor is SUU’s second leading scorer (close to 12 points per game), rebounder and shot blocker on a team that is hovering around .500.
“The Summit League Tournament is coming up and with the balanced team we have, we have a shot at the NCAA’s,” he said. “If we all get on the same page and locked in, who knows.
“No matter, my experience here has been special. I will graduate in May in Communications with a 3.7. From there hopefully I’ll get a chance overseas and make some money before I come back home. I love Detroit, but I will have to go where the job is. Eventually I want to be a screen and play writer.”
This product of a single family home with four other brothers is a shining American light. exemplifying personal liberation and life deliverance. Taylor he is a role model for many in America’s urban cities that have had to endure and create a rebirth.