Jahmel Taylor last season was an invaluable piece for the Fresno State Bulldogs, stretching the basketball court, knocking down shots from the three-point line and beyond.
His range, deep. There was one at Nevada where assistant Jerry Wainwright on the bench scrambled to get his feet out of the way and clear landing space as Taylor returned to the court off a shot. “He was right in front of me,” Wainwright said. “I didn’t want him to sprain his ankle coming down on my toes.”
Those shots went down, too, more often than not. Taylor hit 48.6 percent of his threes in Mountain West play, which would have led the league had he had the minimum 2.5 made shots per game to qualify.
The bizarre in there is that Taylor could barely see when he hit those 18 shots, the rim just a blurry orange thing 10 feet off the ground and some 20-plus feet away.
My vision is not terrible to where I can’t see it at all, but it is blurry. With the goggles I have 20/20 vision, so I’m seeing a lot better. Before, the rim was kind of blurry orange, but I could still see where it is. Now, I can see it perfectly.
Fresno State guard Jahmel Taylor
The 6-foot guard has contact lenses, which stay in the drawer most days. He has glasses, which he will wear to class and when out and about.
But on the basketball court, he has relied on the muscle memory in a well-rehearsed release, a keen spatial awareness to where he is on the floor and a knack for finding open shots.
“It’s something he has always had to deal with, even in high school,” Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry said. “He didn’t really want to have eyewear when shooting the basketball and just really compensated for it.
“He has learned to have a mechanism to offset that for him to continue to shoot the ball the way he has and it has worked for him. It has been highly successful.”
Joked Wainwright: “I’ve coached a couple of basketball players who wore really thick glasses, but they were post players and they still couldn’t find the rim.”
He then added, “As long as I’ve been around, I’ve never seen anyone with that kind of range. Jahmel, when he shoots it, he’s out there, now. He has a special gift.”
Fresno State under coach Rodney Terry has improved its win total in Mountain West play every year, going from 5-11 in 2012 to 9-9 to 10-6 and to 13-5 last season when advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
But, since the summer and now into the second week of practices for a 2016-17 season the Bulldogs are hoping will include a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, Taylor has worn prescription goggles.
It helps, obviously, to be able to see clearly.
“It’s just crazy to think that I wasn’t using them for a whole year,” Taylor said. “My vision is not terrible to where I can’t see it at all, but it is blurry. With the goggles I have 20/20 vision, so I’m seeing a lot better. I’m seeing a lot clearer. I can see a lot more definition. Before, the rim was kind of blurry orange, but I could still see where it is. Now, I can see it perfectly.
“It’s working out good. It’s not affecting my shot. I’m seeing where the rim actually is now.”
This season if Taylor continues to improve at the defensive end, he could see an expanded role, which was so important to the Bulldogs a year ago when making a run through the second half of Mountain West play and into the conference tournament.
Taylor a year ago became eligible at midyear after transferring from Washington, played in his first game Dec. 27 against Pacific Union and went through a stretch early in conference play where he got no more than two minutes in five games and didn’t play in two others.
Everybody talks about the second half that Marvelle (Harris) and Juice (Julien Lewis) had, but the driving lanes were all of a sudden two gaps instead of one gap. His ability to make big shots, and deep ones, too, just changed our whole look. It made a real difference.
Fresno State assistant coach Jerry Wainwright
But starting with a Feb. 13 overtime loss at Nevada, Taylor started to get more minutes and in the Bulldogs’ last seven regular-season games he hit 18 of 31 shots from the three-point line.
Fresno State scored 79.3 points per game, up from 71.2 in the first 11 MW games that was padded by an 111-104 double-overtime victory over UNLV at the Save Mart Center.
“I thought he was a real key to last year because they did stand somebody in front of him and that just opened everything up,” Wainwright said.
“Everybody talks about the second half that Marvelle (Harris) and Juice (Julien Lewis) had, but the driving lanes were all of a sudden two gaps instead of one gap. His ability to make big shots, and deep ones, too, just changed our whole look. It made a real difference.”
That much was plain to see, much more than the work Taylor has put into compensate for his vision.
“The credit to JT was in those dark hours, when he didn’t even get a sniff, he never broke down on his work ethic,” Wainwright said. “He has incredible shot confidence, but it’s built on work confidence.”
Said Taylor: “Really, for me, its repetition. I’ve constantly worked on my shot since I was young. I know what the best places are for me to shoot and I’m making sure that I’m always ready. It’s constant repetition and then you figure it out – I might not see the rim perfectly, but I know where it kind of is.
“I have the same form most of the time when I shoot and the basket doesn’t move, so I know where it is.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Fresno State men’s basketball
- 1 vs. Cal State San Bernardino (exhibition), 7 p.m.
- 11 vs. Texas-San Antonio, 7 p.m.
- 14 vs. Prairie View A&M, 7 p.m.
- 19 vs. Lamar, 11 a.m.
- 22 at Cal State Bakersfield, 7 p.m.
- 25 at Oregon State, 6 p.m.
- 30 vs. Menlo College, 5 p.m.
- 3 at Drake, TBA
- 6 at Marquette, 4:30 p.m.
- 10 vs. Cal Poly, 4 p.m.
- 14 vs. Holy Names, 7 p.m.
- 17 at Pacific, 7 p.m.
- 20 at Oregon, 8 p.m.
- 28 at New Mexico*, 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.
- 31 vs. Nevada*, 4 p.m.
- 4 vs. Wyoming*, 7 p.m.
- 7 at San Jose State*, 2 p.m.
- 11 at Air Force*, 6 p.m.
- 14 vs. Boise State*, 4 p.m.
- 18 vs. Colorado State*, 8 p.m.
- 21 at Nevada*, 3 p.m.
- 28 at Utah State*, 6 p.m.
- 1 vs. Air Force*, 7 p.m.
- 4 vs. San Diego State*, 4 p.m.
- 8 at Wyoming*, 6 p.m.
- 11 at Colorado State*, 1 p.m.
- 15 vs. San Jose State*, 7 p.m.
- 18 vs. New Mexico*, 3 p.m.
- 22 at San Diego State*, 8 p.m.
- 28 at Boise State*, 7 p.m.
- 4 vs. UNLV*, 4 p.m.
- 8-11 Mountain West tournament, TBA
*Mountain West game