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Ricky Taylor looks to pass the ball during UTC basketball practice at McKenzie Arena.

Ricky Taylor will have a full day on Dec. 17.

He'll wake up early, take some pictures in his cap and gown, then head to graduation ceremonies for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He'll shake hands, give and get a few hugs, then head up I-75 where Taylor and his Mocs teammates will play at top-ranked Kentucky.

It's a day that he'll never forget no matter how his basketball team plays.

"I wanted to be an example back at home and let them know that you can get a degree while playing basketball," said Taylor, who grew up in Brownsville, Tenn. "The degree means a lot more to me than basketball.

"This is my Christmas present to myself."

It's a present worth cherishing and one that no thief can ever steal away from him.

"I did it for my family, I did it for my friends," Taylor said. "Most importantly, I did this for myself. I'm proud of myself for getting my degree."

Taylor accomplished his goal of earning an accounting degree in just 3 1/2 years. He did so by entering UTC with a few college credits and taking advantage of summer school opportunities provided by the UTC athletics department.

"He took great advantage of summer, and like what we always talk about, are you going to use the process or get used by it?" coach John Shulman said. "A lot of kids get used by going wherever, help the program win games and have nothing to show for it.

"How can you use us? Go to summer school, be in the academic lab, and use us to get what you want, and that's what he did."

Former Mocs Jeff Smith and Stephen McDowell have also earned their degrees ahead of schedule in recent years. Taylor joins that list and plans on taking classes that will count toward and MBA in the spring semester.

"Walking across the stage is part of the experience and I'm not going to take that away from Ricky," Shulman said. "I remember Doaks walking through with him wearing the championship net around his neck. I'll remember that.

"The only problem is that I won't be here to see Ricky walk. With Ricky going in December, that's one down and four to go this year."

The ball doesn't always go through the hoop when Taylor attempts a shot, even though he leads UTC with an average of 12.3 points per game.

And not every class he's taken has ended with Taylor with an 'A' or 'B' as a grade. In fact, he's flubbed a few. He scored an F in two classes during his academic career -- auditing and intermediate accounting III.

"Of course I got an F," Taylor said. "You have your ups and downs."

Those are more than balanced out by the number A's that he's earned which is, "At least more than 20."