LAS VEGAS -- The back of Jermaine Taylor's jersey always spells his last name in bold letters. The front of his jersey is almost constantly changing. Over the years, it has spelled Vipers, Rockets, Kings and Red Claws. It has featured writing in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Chinese.
Taylor hopes that someday soon his name finds a permanent home on the back of a jersey -- any jersey -- so long as it has the NBA logo on the front. This summer, Taylor finds himself in a familiar situation. The 26-year-old guard is donning yet another jersey, playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers' Summer League squad in hopes of getting an invitation to training camp.
Shortly after being drafted 32nd overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2009 NBA Draft, Taylor was traded to Houston Rockets. He then bounced around from the Rockets to the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers and back to the Rockets. In December of 2010, Houston traded the talented scoring guard to the Sacramento Kings. After failing to make the Minnesota Timberwolves prior to the 2012-13 NBA season, Taylor had a decision to make: spend another year grinding through the D-League in hopes of an NBA call-up or try his luck playing internationally.
There's plenty of money to be made overseas for an exceptional athlete and scorer like Taylor. Despite his impressive scoring totals in the D-League, he had yet to find a consistent spot on an NBA roster. Over the course of 2013, he played basketball throughout the world, bouncing around from Spain to Israel to China. Ultimately, he found his way back to the D-League and spent the remainder of the 2012-13 season with the Maine Red Claws. Back in the D-League, Taylor continued to do what he does best: score points in bunches. He averaged 24.4 points per game and his 49-point outburst marked the highest single-game total in the D-League that season.
Nobody has ever questioned Taylor's ability to score or to throw down highlight-reel dunks, but he understands that it's going to take more than that for him to stick in the NBA.
"My goal is to do whatever I'm supposed to be doing," Taylor told SB Nation. "Whatever the coaches want me to do, that's what I'm going to do."
Until Taylor lands some sort of guaranteed contract in the league, he's taking part in a type of informal tryout every time he steps on the floor . This summer, he's playing with Cleveland, but he'd be happy to get an opportunity from any of the 30 teams in the NBA.
"I've added a lot of pieces to my game," he said. "I've worked a lot this summer on my shot, my defense. I really want to show not only the coaches here [in Cleveland], but every coach in the gym that I've been working and I've improved."
A lot of time has past since Taylor was scoring 26.2 points per game as a senior at the University of Central Florida. His experience in the D-League helped him understand just how much work it takes to be an NBA player and the life of a professional athlete isn't always glamorous. But above all else, it simply made him want to be in the NBA that much more.
"It helped me a lot. It opened my eyes a little bit," Taylor said of his time playing in the D-League. "But, I'm hungry. I want to get back to the [NBA]. That's my goal."
Every year, talented basketball players go undrafted or get cut by NBA teams and are content to play in Europe to earn a solid paycheck. But the paycheck isn't what's motivating Taylor. He was drafted early in the second round. He's logged over 750 minutes in NBA games. He's had a taste of the NBA and refuses to settle for anything less.
"For me it's not about money. If it were about money I would have gone overseas a long time ago," Taylor said. "For me, it's more about accomplishing my dream. And my dream is to be an NBA player, not a professional player anywhere else. My goal has always been to be an NBA player."
See the smudge above the square? That's where Jermaine Taylor just put his hand. pic.twitter.com/34RgfODxIR— Conrad Kaczmarek (@ConradKazNBA) July 15, 2013
Simply watching Taylor in the Las Vegas Summer League, it's a little hard to understand why he's been unable to stick in the NBA up to this point. His athleticism is off the charts, as he was more than willing to show with a series of jaw-dropping dunks before the Cavaliers took on the New Orleans Pelicans. He has adequate, if not ideal, size for an NBA shooting guard at 6'4, and the range on his jumper extends well beyond the three-point line. Over the years, scouts and critics have rightfully questioned Taylor's defense and consistency, but he hopes that his drive and desire will eventually help him overcome his deficiencies. Taylor hasn't reached his goals yet, but lots of players can learn from his journey.
"It's a process. The league is not what everyone thinks it is. If you're in there, you've gotta wait your turn and appreciate the opportunities given to you because it's a blessing," Taylor said of young players that share his aspirations.
"If you're not in there, don't give up on your dream. I mean -- I could have given up a long time ago. But this is something that I want, so I'm gonna work hard and do whatever it takes to get there."
Taylor's journey is far from over. He'll finish Summer League with the Cavs, work hard enough to get an invite to an NBA training camp, and then grind through training camp for the chance to land on an NBA roster. For talented players like Taylor, his story is a common one. But with his passion and work ethic, he hopes it can have an uncommon ending. And for Taylor that only means one thing: his name on the back of an NBA jersey.
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