Fort Wayne big man stands out while blending in

Xzavier Taylor is 'special' on, off the court

Fort Wayne fifth-year center Xzavier Taylor, right, defends against freshman Cameron Benford during a recent practice at the Gates Sports Center. (By Tom Davis of The News-Sentinel)

When a guy is 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds of muscle, it is hard for him NOT to stand out when he walks into every room. However, in the case of fifth-year Fort Wayne men’s basketball player Xzavier Taylor, because of who he is as a person, he can’t help himself but to blend in to every environment that he immerses himself into.

“Xzavier Taylor is a special, special, special individual,” fourth-year Mastodon coach Jon Coffman told The News-Sentinel Wednesday. “He’s got a knack for being able to read other people and connect with other people.”

Visit a Fort Wayne basketball practice and you’ll quickly notice that Taylor does a lot of talking. Not “trash-talking,” but actual teaching of other players, which for this specific Mastodon squad, is really invaluable.

“We have eight guys who have never played a minute for us,” Coffman said of his 14-man roster this season. “So those six guys, who have stepped on the floor for us, it is critical for them to coach from within.”

The phrase “coaching from within” gets used a lot within the Fort Wayne program. Yes, Coffman and his assistants do their share of instructing and motivating, but the Mastodon student-athletes have also been taught to strengthen the team as a whole by lifting others – not just yourself – up.

“Throughout practice,” Coffman explained, “and throughout games, they need to be coaching each other. That is when you really see the growth of your team when (the instruction) is not just coming from the head coach or the coaching staff.”

Taylor’s physical presence isn’t the only reason that the Fort Wayne players listen when he speaks, they also know to what degree the Chicago native is emotionally invested in the program.

“We talk a lot in our program about people that are successful after basketball are chameleons,” Coffman said. “They can get into any sort of environment and they can make other people feel comfortable and they feel comfortable. That is who Xzavier is.”

Taylor has demonstrated his value off the court ever since transferring to Fort Wayne three seasons ago from Bradley University, but this season, he’ll be asked to provide just as much value on the court.

The Mastodons graduated starting center Brent Calhoun from last year’s 20-win team, and Taylor is the lone experienced post presence on this year’s roster. Coffman also has redshirt freshman Dylan Carl and true freshman Cameron Benford available, but Taylor will be counted on the most of the three.

“Xzavier is tremendous in his ‘acts of caring,'” Coffman said of another mantra that he preaches ad nauseum to his players, “which helps to build the equity with our foundation. When adversity strikes, that is when guys step up and we never get too high or too low.

“That is who Xzavier is.”

Last season, Taylor played in all 33 games and averaged over 15 minutes per game. Against the toughest teams on the Mastodons’ schedule, he was the most productive.

In road games at Arkansas and Notre Dame, he scored a combined 22 points, while in Fort Wayne’s historic upset win over nationally-ranked Indiana, Coffman had to utilize Taylor 30 minutes and he produced eight points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks.

If there is one area of concern with Taylor, and there really isn’t a criticism off of the court, the big man does need to play with more discipline.

Last season, Taylor committed a team-high 95 fouls despite playing the seventh most minutes.

“I expect Xzavier to have a phenomenal year,” Coffman said. “I still remember two short years ago when he came in and everything we talked about it felt like it was making his head spin. Now, he really feels comfortable with our expectations for him. He is letting the game come to him. He has a great understanding of what his role is and he is advancing that with really owning a leadership role and communicating with the newcomers.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.