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Alan Taylor Was One of BYU’s Best Big Men

23 April 2014 Brett Richins
Alan Taylor was one of the top centers in BYU history. (BYU photo)

Alan Taylor was one of the top centers in BYU history. (BYU photo)

The BYU family received sad news this week with the passing of former basketball player Alan Taylor. If you are under the age of 45 you probably don’t remember Taylor’s playing days in Provo.

I have vague memories of BYU great Kresimer Cosic, but Taylor was the starting center for the Cougars when I really started paying close attention to BYU basketball as a young man in the late 1970’s.

He was a key part of a team that help to launch quite a run by the program in those days and he was a teammate of guys like Danny Ainge, Scott Runia, Devin Durrant, Fred Roberts, Steve Craig and Steve Trumbo.

At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Alan was a mountain of a man. He was extremely strong, a physical player who was one of the greatest rebounders in BYU history. As a senior during the 1979-80 season, he averaged a double-double by scoring 12.5 points and pulling down 10.9 rebounds per game. He turned in 34 double-doubles during his career, the third most in BYU history.

His 919 career rebounds is tied for second all-time with Cosic. Only Michael Smith had more rebounds during his career at BYU. I remember well Taylor’s final home game as a Cougar when he set a Marriott Center record with 23 rebounds against San Diego State, a mark that still stands today nearly 35 years later.

In addition to his prowess on the glass, Taylor was also the most efficient shooter in BYU history. His career shooting average of 57.7 percent tops every player who has ever worn a BYU uniform. He’s also sixth all-time in blocked shots with 119.

My fondest memory of Taylor as a player was actually in a game that never counted in the record books, a preseason exhibition contest against the powerful Soviet Union national team in November of 1979.

It was just a few months after I had received my driver’s license, which allowed me and my friends to begin making the 2.5-hour round trip drives from my home in Coalville, Utah to attend BYU football and basketball games.

At that time the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was still raging, so the invasion by the Soviets drew a huge crowd that night for what turned out to be an electric atmosphere. In fact, it was the second loudest game that I’ve ever experienced in the Marriott Center.

To give you an idea of just how loud it was, I would rank the 2011 game against San Diego State in which Jimmer scored 43 points and was mobbed by BYU fans following the victory over the Aztecs as the third loudest game I’ve experienced in the MC. The loudest basketball game I’ve ever witnessed was a 27-25 BYU loss to Wyoming in 1982. I sat on the front row in the Marriott Center that day and my ears rang for days afterward.

The game with the Soviets was hard fought and went back and forth.

The USSR had a towering team that included 6-foot-10 forward Anatoly Myshkin, who would go on to be named as one of the Top 50 players in FIBA history, and 7-foot-3, 310-pound center Vladimir Tkachenko, who was probably the biggest player in the world at the time.

The Russians were coming off of a first place finish in the Eurobasket league the year before and had finished second in the World Championships in 1978.

Though undersized and outnumbered down low, Taylor outplayed the big Soviet frontline that night.

He was brilliant on the glass and on defense, and his play helped to keep the underdog Cougars in the game. His block of an attempted dunk by Tkachenko in the second half brought the BYU crowd to a roaring crescendo and spurred a run that was key to the Cougars pulling off an upset against the Evil Empire.

With BYU’s big man helping to lead the way, the Cougars would finish 24-5 that season, go 13-1 on their way to winning the WAC, and advance to the NCAA tournament. That year helped to set the stage for the following season, when Danny Ainge would dash into NCAA history with his drive to the basket against Notre Dame to lift BYU into the Elite Eight.

Taylor’s life was cut short at the young age of 55 after a long battle with diabetes. On Saturday in Reno, Nevada they will lay to rest one of the best centers in BYU basketball history, and a man I rooted for as a kid.

He’ll be missed.

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