A legend is returning to the Roundhouse.
Johnny Taylor, the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga forward who led the Mocs to the Sweet 16 in 1997, will join the coaching staff as a student assistant.
"I'm thrilled that he wanted to come back to Chattanooga," first-year coach Will Wade said of the 1997 SoCon player of the year. "He's the face a lot of people associate with Chattanooga basketball.
"He'll be a great mentor to our players and help the program get back to where it was when he played."
Taylor said is excited about the opportunity to return to Chattanooga and learn about coaching, a career path he hopes to take after he retired from a 15-year pro basketball career.
"It's definitely a great opportunity with the new regime coming in," Taylor said by phone Monday. "Just to be around those guys and learn from them as coaches will help me be a more well-rounded and complete person, and I hopefully can teach the guys what I've learned over the course my career.
"I'm looking for big things from [Wade and his coaching staff]. They're younger, but I've been playing while they've been learning the other side. I'm looking to learn and put in my input where ever I can."
Taylor was a first-round selection by the Orlando Magic in the 1997 NBA Draft. He played for the Magic and Denver Nuggets in the NBA over four seasons before continuing his pro career overseas in 2001. He retired from basketball in 2012 and recently returned to UTC to complete the final 26 course hours of his undergraduate degree and host a youth basketball camp, which will be held Aug. 1-3 at Notre Dame High School.
Wade began calling former Mocs during his first few days on the job. He'd talk to a handful per day with almost each call leading to the phone number of another player, quickly resulting in a conversation with Taylor.
Wade said they talked about Taylor's interest in coaching basketball and spending more time in Chattanooga where his parents still reside.
"My mind got to working," Wade said. "We hammered it out over about six weeks until we got it all worked out."
Taylor said that he feels like his experience in the 1990s can help Wade return the program to its glory days.
This story is featured in today's TimesFreePress newscast.
"UTC is a traditional program," he said. "Before we got there, from the early 80s, they were a winning team. If they missed the tournament one year, you better believe they were going to be there the next four years. They were always a powerhouse.
"And VCU is a very good team, so if Coach Wade learned anything from that system, I can only imagine what he can bring to UTC. I think it's more about getting the guys to buy in, and I don't think they've been buying in over the past couple of years."
Wade said Taylor will have the title of student assistant, his pay will be minimal and Taylor will attend classes for two semesters to earn his degree from UTC.
"He's sacrificing a lot to come back," Wade said. "Part of my job is to help him learn the behind-the-scenes part of coaching. He'll have a lot of roles.
"He's been successful in their shoes. He believes in our core values and he'll show our guys the way."
And Taylor, who played high school basketball at Howard, will be a community liaison for the UTC program, which has experienced a decline in interest and attendance in recent years.
"UTC fans aren't fickle, but at the same time you have to show them something," Taylor said. "If you show them something, they will come, they will support you and they will be right there. They're not going to come if you don't have anybody on that roster from here that's not good.
"Most of the kids that are playing around here, I know their parents. I went to school with their parents or I played against their parents. Hopefully, if I can get on staff after I finish that degree up that will be a big bonus for the program."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JFTanner.