Taylor Hall grateful for UTC career that almost didn't happen

Taylor Hall grateful for UTC career that almost didn't happen

February 28th, 2014 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

Lady Mocs player Taylor Hall (31) works on free throw drills.

Lady Mocs player Taylor Hall (31) works on...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Taylor Hall will reflect fondly upon her career as a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball player someday. It will be one full of records and a place as an all-time great in the illustrious history of the program.

And that career almost never got off the ground.

Hall and the Mocs get back on the floor this evening, hosting Elon in the final weekend of the regular season. She and four other seniors will celebrate their final home game Sunday afternoon against UNC Greensboro.

Tonight's game, which tips off at 7, will be a "Pink-Out" for the MaryEllen Locher Foundation, and fans are encouraged to wear pink to the game.

Hall's Morristown West High School team lost 59-42 to Murfreesboro Riverdale in the Class AAA state championship game her senior year. She was honored as the state Miss Basketball winner afterward, but her disappointment, combined with some fatigue from playing basketball competitively for the previous eight years, led her to decide to step away from the game.

She had signed with UTC but called that summer and informed then-Mocs coach Wes Moore that she was not going to play.

It was a decision she quickly regretted.

"It only took me two-three months to realize that I missed it," Hall said Thursday. "Basketball is just a part of me. If I could go back in time, I would have never taken that break, but I'm just thankful that Coach Moore gave me another chance."

Assistant coach Katie Burrows, the only coach still on staff from Moore's tenure, was entering her first season after a standout career at UTC. She remembered that it was a pretty easy decision to let Hall rejoin the team, which she did that November. She practiced one time, then was with the Mocs as they played a road game against the College of Charleston. Hall played the final seven minutes, despite not knowing the offense at the time.

"We just threw her to the wolves," Burrows recalled. "She wasn't in shape -- she was winded and confused -- but you could tell she was going to be special because of how quickly she picked up things.

"Taking a chance on Taylor was the best decision we've ever made. Where would we be without her?"

Hall leads the Mocs in scoring (15 points per game), rebounds (8.8), assists (4.3) and steals (2.4), ranking in the top five in the Southern Conference in those categories. She leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6) and is second in minutes played (35.1) and third in free-throw shooting (84 percent). She has been the conference player of the week on three occasions.

"It's been a great experience overall," Hall said of her career. "Basketball has has such an influence on me both on and off the court; I think I've gotten a lot out of it and I wouldn't trade it. Sometimes there are hard days, and you wish you didn't do this and you'd have some free time, but I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Hall of Fame coach Jim Foster is in his first season with Hall but says he's never had a player with her varied skill set.

"She's allowed us to play young point guards, as she is in effect a point forward," Foster said. "Offensively she can score, but she can help others score and she makes us a very versatile team. She understands the game and knows basketball, and when you have a frontcourt player that's a very good passer, it makes very good teams exceptional teams."

Hall currently sits 21st all-time in the program with 1,093 points. She's ninth in rebounding with 766 and third in blocked shots with 73. She also has 222 assists and 150 steals in her UTC career.

"It's just been surreal, I guess," she said heading into her last two home games. "It seems like we just got here. The time has flown by, but it's been a blessing to be surrounded by the people I've been surrounded by. We're a close team that has a real bond.

"I've got some great memories here, but hopefully we've got some more memories to make."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.