With basketball season slated to tip off in the middle of November, the Tullahoma High School girls basketball team announced Monday that junior Macey Bowman would be donning the No. 22 this season to honor former THS Head Boys Basketball Coach Jeff Taylor.
Taylor, 43, died in December 2016 after a long battle with cancer. He spent 11 years in charge of the THS boys basketball program, departing Tullahoma in 2012, in order to return to the sidelines for his alma mater, Franklin County.
In his time spent as a player and coach, Taylor was described as hard-nosed, unafraid and somebody who loved the game of basketball.
While searching for a way to honor Taylor’s legacy, the Lady Wildcats’ coaching staff spoke with his wife, Stacy Taylor, and announced a competition for the No. 22 jersey — with Bowman announced as the winner, fittingly, on Oct. 22.
Bowman was selected to wear No. 22 following a vote by her teammates and coaches.
“I am so very honored to be able to represent Jeff Taylor’s legacy,” Bowman said. “He not only influenced people on the court through his character, but also in his walk through faith. His life inspired others and the legacy he left behind will forever be remembered.
“I am humbled that my teammates have chosen me to represent him,” she added. “My team is full of hard-working athletes and I am blessed to be a part of them. I can only hope to do justice to the number 22 and the legacy he left behind.”
The competition to wear Taylor’s number isn’t the only way his legacy lives on in the THS basketball programs.
At the end-of-season banquet last February, the THS boys basketball team announced the inaugural Jeff Taylor Memorial Award, a new tradition which will honor the player who best embodied Taylor’s spirt. The first-ever award went to Sam Brock.
During his final season in Tullahoma in 2012, Taylor led his team a District 8-AAA Tournament Championship, the school’s first in 33 years. That year’s squad went on to finish with an overall record of 20-9.
However, Taylor saw his time on the bench limited while he battled colon cancer. He returned to the sidelines that season after the disease went into remission.
In the spring of 2012, Taylor, a 1992 Franklin County High School graduate, was hired as the Rebels’ head boys basketball coach.
However, the cancer returned while Taylor was at Franklin County, causing him to miss the majority of the 2015-16 season and he did not coach at all in 2016.
As a player, Taylor was a standout for the Rebels from 1989 until 1992. While at Franklin County, he received numerous accolades, including being an honorable mention for the McDonald’s All-American team during his senior season.
He additionally set the single-game school record for points, putting up 41 against Riverdale in the region tournament.
After graduating from Franklin County, Taylor became the first – and to date, the only – Rebel to play basketball at the Division I level, playing for Samford University.
In December 2016, shortly before his death, Taylor’s No. 22 jersey was retired during a ceremony at Franklin County High School during a matchup against Tullahoma. Taylor was not in attendance at the ceremony, due to his health.
After Taylor died in 2016, then-West Middle School Head Coach Cody McMurtry was trying to figure out a way to honor Taylor. In March, McMurtry was hired as the THS girls basketball coach and began developing plans to make the battle for the No. 22 jersey a yearly competition.
“Once I became the THS head coach, I felt we had a great opportunity to start something,” McMurtry said. “I discussed it with my assistants, spoke with Stacy and prayed about it. We told the team this fall and voted a few weeks ago on it. Jeff meant so much to this community and what he brought to basketball here and the impact he made on a lot of people, we felt it was the least we could do to honor a great man and coach.”
Admittedly, McMurtry said he didn’t know Taylor all that well, having just brief conversations. However, McMurtry said there was one conversation that resonated with him the most.
“What I do remember from our talks is how he liked to use basketball as a platform to demonstrate his faith,” McMurtry said. “He taught me a valuable lesson, in that every kid needs to be coached hard and loved harder. He told me that one evening at West [Middle School] after a game we had.
“He said, ‘Kids make mistakes, but they get nothing from those mistakes if we let them slide by with it. That as coaches, it was our job to understand they are trying hard, but they will sometimes fail and we should be there to help them when they do and correct those mistakes.’
“What I didn’t know at the time, was that he was referring to life, not basketball,” McMurtry continued. “A good example of how he used basketball as his platform.”
When developing the jersey number competition, there were certain characteristics that McMurtry said the winner had to have. He first noted that the winning player needed to demonstrate leadership on and off the court, while also having strong values and faith. The player should also help others, have a great work ethic and be empathetic, while also being a leader with a great attitude, while continuing to do the little things on and off the court.
Though the competition was open to all players, McMurtry said he started noticing Bowman as a front-runner during the summer. In fact, when it came to voting, Bowman was nearly unanimously selected as the winner.
“I started noticing in July,” McMurtry said. “Macey kept asking what she needed to do to be a better leader and was at everything. Even on off days, she asked if she could get in the gym. The players on the team tend to gravitate toward her and respond to her in a positive manner. She talks to her teammates the right way, she leads the right way and her faith and values are respected by all the players and coaches. She leads by example on and off the court.”
The Tullahoma High School basketball teams are scheduled to get the season underway on Nov. 16, when they host Central Magnet. Tipoff of the girls game is scheduled for 6 p.m. with the boys taking the floor 15 minutes after that contest concludes.