CHATTANOOGA, TENN--For the 11th time in school history, Chattanooga finds itself back in the Big Dance--a place that had become familiar territory for the Blue and Gold and when the Mocs won their 10th Southern Conference crown in 2009, most figured it wouldn't take another seven years to get another.
The SoCon has become a league tougher and tougher to win with each passing season, but with the 73-67 win over arch-rival East Tennessee State on in a fifth all-time meeting between the two in the SoCon title game in what is arguably the bitterest of SoCon hardwood rivalries.
Though there are plenty of moments to pick from the history of Chattanooga basketball in this first of a two-part series taking a look at the rivalry, in this first edition, perhaps the greatest team in the history of Chattanooga basketball was the 1996-97 team that matriculated as far as the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out agains Austin Croshere, God Shamgod and the Providence Friars in Birmingham, losing 64-58.
Players like point guard Wes Moore--no not the former head women's coach--but a walk-on player that more than made his presence known in the Scenic City.
Moore would complete his career as the program's all-time leader in three-pointers made (174), while Willie "Free for Three" Young showed both Georgia and Illinois in the opening two rounds that he could score the basketball in a variety of different ways. Young went on to finish ninth in a single-season in three-pointers made, canning 62 triples and he ended up averaging 14.2 PPG at season's end, and ranked among the top of the SoCon in steals and assists. Isaac Connor, who was a reliable sophomore, proved he could also be an asset shooting the trey, and by the time the lanky Connor graduated in 1999, he ranked fifth in program history in triples made with 149.
Then there was Chris Mims. The kid from Alabama that took nothing off of anyone--a tough, hard-nosed athletic kid who would not be denied on the offensive or defensive end when it came to grabbing a rebound. With white socks pulled up high and tremendous athleticism play bigger than his 6-5 height at the four. Mims reminds me of former Wofford big man Tim Johnson in that he did everything to help that team win ballgames, and his numbers were similar to that of Johnson's, posting 10.7 PPG and 7.4 RPG.
But it was obvious there was one distinct player that set the Mocs apart from anyone in the SoCon, and he was the Stephen Curry before the Stephen Curry. In fact, during Taylor's two seasons in the Scenic City for the Mocs after coming in from Indian Hills Community College, it was a time within the SoCon basketball landscape, which saw JUCO transfers like Frankie King have a huge impact on the league, leading the nation in scoring for much of the 1994-95 season.
Keith Veney, one of the nation's most prolific three-point shooters came to Marshall from Lamar during the Herd's last season in the league, setting an NCAA record in 1996-97 after he canned 15 treys in a single game. There was Jason Williams, who played point for the Herd, and became known as "White Chocolate" in the NBA for his silky cross-over and Pete Maravich-like no-look passes. Sidney Coles was son of Miami Heat standout Bimbo Coles, and the younger son was the national leader in steals in 1996-97. As good as all those players were during that time-span, perhaps none were as talented as Taylor who could truly do it all. In fact, the Mocs
Taylor transferred to Chattanooga from Indian Hills Community College prior to the 1995-96 season, and while bigger programs shied away from Taylor initially due to academics, Taylor got his grades in order and became the crown jewel in McCarthy's Sweet Sixteen team in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
Taylor finished his two seasons in the Scenic as the fourth-best scoring average (17.3 PPG) in program history, and he became the highest pick in the NBA Draft in the modern era in the 1997 NBA Draft in Charlotte, as he was taken 17th overall by the Orlando Magic. Stephen Curry of Davidson was the seventh pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.
In recent seasons, Taylor served as a grad assistant on the basketball staff for the Mocs. Taylor became a big reason why the Mocs basketball program holds such acclaim to this very day.