Sometimes your emotions betray you. You sense that a person has extraordinary qualities, but after plum bobbing and further review, you find that all the dots, which might be superficial, don’t connect.
This leads to the reality that what you often see is not what you get. But I am happy to aggressively creep out on the limb with confidence that I am secure in submitting to a rave review of the Lady Dawgs basketball program. It is not premature to sing the praises of coach Joni Taylor.
People of distinction, or those moving in that direction, have multiple qualities that reveal a special quality that bodes well for the future. That they know what they are doing becomes obvious, mainly because the results confirm that they are not following a path of self-aggrandizement. In Taylor’s case, the evidence is overwhelming that she can recruit and she can coach.
If you begin with a bio and stat sheet ― that’s always a very good place to start ― you see confirmation of accomplishment early in her career. She is a native of Meridian, Miss., which brings front and center confirmation that she knows about the cynical world in which we live. Not everybody accepted her, not everybody was willing to appreciate her without reservation. She knows about the second-guessing world we live in, but that only made her underscore the objective of being the best that she could be and to accentuate the positive.
Not everybody gets to enjoy an up-close and personal outing with her. If you were to have that experience, you would come away charmed, enlightened and uplifted. To start, she has the demeanor that puts all at ease. She disarms doubting Thomases with her compelling presence. She has a regal bearing and is imbued with altruistic objectives.
She has a simple philosophy — first and foremost to recruit young women to help her win basketball games. Life is competitive, and she wants them to enjoy the rewards of success but to also give back. You give back by developing an affinity for team, alma mater and community. You honor scholarship and citizenship. When life deals you a lemon, you turn it into lemonade.
She wants her players to be a clone of her. She would never suggest such, however, because she’s just too modest. Known then as Joni Crenshaw, she was the 1997 Gatorade Player of the Year for Mississippi, then a resourceful and overachieving forward at Alabama for four seasons under the accomplished Rick Moody. She was as much about off-the-court conduct as she was on court; she was a three-time SEC Community Service Team member in college, earning a postgraduate scholarship from the SEC for her community service record. Life was good when she was a student-athlete, and she aspires for her players to enjoy the same experience.
She had such a rewarding experience early on in college that she made the decision to become a coach. She knows the influence that a coach can have on the lives of young people.
“There is more,” she said, “than winning games when you are a student-athlete.”
If you probe who she is, you learn quickly that she is all about family. Her parents, Dr. Hargie and Jonas Crenshaw, are structurally involved in her life, mainly because her high-profile job as a coach means that she has to have help with her daughter, Jacie Elise, now 15 months old. You see them sitting behind the Georgia bench as often as they can get to town from Meridian. While Darius, her husband, pitches in, he has a professional commitment, too. He is an assistant coach with the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA.
The dream for the Taylors is that everybody has fun, everybody pitches in and through it all, family takes priority. Her players get to see Jacie Elise when she comes to practice and when they go to the Taylors for socials.
In her first season, 2015-16, Taylor Joni led the Lady Dawgs to the NCAA Tournament. She won the Maggie Dixon award, an honor that goes to the best first-year coach in the country.
She now has her team ranked No. 18 in the country with a 20-3 record. She has an old-shoe fit with those who are important to Lady Dawgs basketball. She is giving and forgiving. And she has the respect from, and some envy of, countless big-time women’s basketball coaches across the nation.
They know the Lady Dawgs’ boss has the right stuff.
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