Levi Taylor is making a fresh start in the sport he’d left behind years ago.
The former three-sport star at Lewis and Clark High School is back in class and back on the court, helping the Community Colleges of Spokane chase a conference championship even as he chases a better future for himself and his family.
Last summer, Taylor was adrift. Five years out of high school and with two daughters to support, he was in the working world after a failed attempt to play semipro football.
He worked odd jobs around Spokane and played pickup basketball games, impressing friends who wondered why he wasn’t playing collegiately.
That got Taylor’s attention.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Taylor, who had played two years of football at Central Washington and doubted he was eligible to play college sports.
Almost as an afterthought, Taylor made contact last summer with CCS coach Jeremy Groth, who offered to take a look.
Groth’s verdict: Taylor talented but raw. Six months later, Taylor is the leading scorer on a Sasquatch team that’s 23-3 overall and a league-leading 9-1 in the Northwest Athletic Conference.
Since the beginning of the season, the 6-foot-1 wing has been the proverbial spark off the bench. In his fifth organized game since high school, Taylor scored 40 points in a 104-85 win over Everett Community College; a month later, he hit 14 of 18 shots and put up 39 points against Edmonds.
Last weekend, his layup with 4 seconds left gave CCS an 88-86 win over Blue Mountain.
“He’s having a great time and loves his teammates,” Groth said. “It’s been great to see where he started, where he is now and where he’s going to be as a player and a person.”
Growing up poor, Taylor also grew up in a hurry. Life weighed heavily: He was in and out of trouble, was a father by the time he reached eighth grade, and lost his mother when he was 17.
Asked as an LC senior what turned his life around, he answered, “Having my daughter.”
So did sports. A natural athlete, he was a first-team all-Greater Spokane League selection in football, basketball and track.
“He might be the best athlete we’ve had around here,” LC basketball coach Jeff Norton said in 2010, the year Taylor graduated with a 3.3 grade-point average, signed a football letter of intent with CWU and became the first in his family to attend college.
Thinking of his mother, he said at the time, “Knowing that she wouldn’t want me to give up really helped.”
That fall he was sidelined by a meniscus injury, but came back strong the following year. Moving from linebacker to running back, he ran for 153 yards and a touchdown in a win over Simon Fraser. However, he struggled acdemically and emotionally.
Back in Spokane, his daughter Maliyah was growing up too fast. “Every time I’d come home, she was a little older,” Taylor said, his voice trailing off.
Taylor returned home in 2012. Since then, he’s worked construction and other jobs – often 10 to 12 hours a day – to help support Maliya and 2-year-old Ma’e Rose.
“I was a zombie most days,” Taylor said. Workouts were done on the fly – sometimes he’d bench a stack of roofing tiles to keep his arms in shape – while he pursued opportunities with the Spokane Shock and the semipro Spokane Wolfpack.
Last year, he came tantalizingly close to making the Shock roster as a defensive back, but was cut a week before the season opener.
“They told me to stay in shape, but I realized it would be another year,” Taylor said. “It was frustrating.”
That’s when Taylor came around to his past. He picked himself up, picked up a basketball and looked at the game in a new light: as a last-chance opportunity.
“Life is a lot like basketball,” Taylor said. “It’s crazy how much you can compare it,” he said, citing the lessons of patience, perseverance and teamwork.
Says Groth, “He’s been very open and very welcoming of everything … he’s come into our program with eyes wide open, soaking up everything like a sponge.”
That’s also true in the classroom, where Taylor is having a solid freshman year. He plans to return next year before moving on to a 4-year-school and majoring in management.
Speaking about his family, Taylor said, “I want to put myself in position to better my future and theirs.”
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