Skyhawk program Hall’s best choice

Skyhawk program Hall’s best choice
By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
UT Martin admittedly wasn’t Taylor Hall’s first college choice.
However, if she had it to do all over again, it would be.
“If anything, I wish I would’ve come here the first year,” said Hall, a junior college transfer who arrived on the UTM campus two years ago and is the only senior on a Skyhawk squad that is preparing for its second straight appearance in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
Whatever her path to rural West Tennessee, Hall has ended up a vital part of a UTM program that has twice won Ohio Valley Conference Tournament titles and will play the University of Tennessee in the first round of the NCAAs Saturday afternoon in Chicago.
She’s arguably playing her best ball as a Skyhawk in her final days on the collegiate level, averaging 7.8 points-per-game and coming off a four-game stretch in which she has made 16 3-pointers.
Perhaps more importantly, her efforts as one of the first players off the UTM bench have attracted some of the defensive attention away from UT Martin’s decorated backcourt tandem of Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome.
How Hall got to campus wasn’t in the original plan.
The second of two serious knee injuries before her senior season at Mt. Juliet prompted college suitors to “stop calling,” according to Hall, who played her final prep campaign anyway before having surgery afterward.
Despite being an honor student, she elected to enroll in junior college (Roane State), with the hopes of then turning that experience into a scholarship at Middle Tennessee State University.
Hall averaged 12.8 ppg and shot better than 41 percent from 3-point range her freshman season and scored at a 14.5 ppg clip while making a team-best 63 3-pointers her sophomore season at RSCC.
“I really wanted to go to MTSU,” Hall said. “That was the plan after I hurt my knee — to rehab, play a couple of years to show people I still could, then go to Middle Tennessee.
“I talked to (MTSU head coach Rick) Insell, and he wanted me to walk-on, though, and said then I’d get a scholarship maybe my second year. I picked up the phone and called (Skyhawk head) coach McMillan the next day. I thought I’d be at MTSU, but after talking to him (McMillan), the idea of coming here and helping build a program really appealed to me.”
She and McMillan actually had a previous relationship when he was on staff and recruited for Insell at MTSU.
The UTM coach said players like 5-9 Hall, who work hard, make the team better by doing whatever asked of them and are good teammates, are what has helped him build the program from shambles three years ago to where it is today,
“That she tore her ACL and played with it through her senior season tells you all you need to know about her right there,” McMillan said. “She’s doing about what I figured she could do for us. The trick has been to not ask her body to do too much with the two knee injuries. We’ve tried to limit her to about 30 minutes-a-game and keep her fresh which, in turn, has kept her effective.
“Another big thing is that she accepts her role. A lot of kids are not used to that coming out of high school, because almost every one of them is their team’s leading scorer, their best player and has received a ton of awards. If you get the right kind of kids, though, it can work and be a win-win situation. They believe in you and trust you. We have a lot of those kids. They do what you ask. Taylor is one of those.”
Called by her coach “a strong guard, a great 3-pointer shooter and a good passer who comes from a solid Tennessee program and who knows how to win,” Hall was at a loss to explain why she’s played her best as her career winds down.
“Maybe it’s because subconsciously I know I’m coming down to the wire, I don’t know. I really haven’t thought about it that way, though,” she said. “I play because I love the game.”
McMillan believes that reality could be the key.
“She may be playing well because it’s her senior year and she knows what’s a stake and what’s down the road for her,” he surmised.
Hall will graduate in the spring but says she then will pursue her master’s degree.
She and McMillan both have talked that coaching could be in her future.
The Skyhawk skipper believes the positive experience Hall has had at UTM — which includes basketball success, getting her education paid for and forming some great relationships and lasting memories — is what he intends all his players to have as student-athletes.
“From my standpoint, it’s all those things, but what I hope she takes with her that we’re family and she’ll be a part of us the rest of her life,” McMillan said. “Everybody needs support at some point in their adult life and we’ll always be supportive of her and all of our kids when they leave our campus.”
Hall’s Skyhawk career has indeed been that, she says.
“I love Martin. The friendships I’ve made and the relationships I’ve had with my teammates and coaches, I couldn’t ask for anything more from my experience here,” she said.
If only she’d known a little earlier.
Published in The Messenger 3.15.12

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