Vanderbilt has been the home of many talented basketball players in over a century's worth of games. Players like Clyde Lee, Jan van Breda Kolff, and Will Perdue all made their names as Commodores before transitioning to successful professional careers. Despite that rich history, Jeffery Taylor will leave Nashville in 2012 as the best athlete to ever wear the black and gold.
The Swedish native came to Vanderbilt by way of Hobbs, New Mexico, where he was a late commitment in Kevin Stallings's heralded recruiting class of 2008. Taylor, Lance Goulbourne, Steve Tchiengang, and Brad Tinsley teamed up to make three NCAA Tournament appearances and earned the team's first SEC Tournament title since 1951 over four memorable years. Despite Tinsley's fast start and Goulbourne and Tchiengang's strength as big men, Taylor was the clear star of his class from the day he stepped on campus.
At 6'7" and 200 pounds, he was immediately able to emerge as a starter at small forward thanks to his elite athleticism. Taylor had plenty of issues to address in order to round out his game, but his solid defense and high-flying dunks made him an impact player throughout his first year. He wasn't much of a shooter, and he could get bullied by stronger players in the paint, but he put together a season that made him Vandy's most promising freshman since A.J. Ogilvy in 2006-2007.
Taylor put together a solid but unremarkable sophomore season before making a big jump as a player the following year. He locked himself in Memorial Gym to address his shortcomings, adding 25 pounds of muscle before his junior year and taking steps to address a flawed jumper that left him making just 9 percent of his three-point attempts as a sophomore. With Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal gone, Taylor stepped into their leadership roles on both sides of the court. He remained an All-SEC defender, but he was also a more efficient scorer who was a budding three-point threat (34.5%) who used his improved shooting to open up drives to the basket.
This upward trajectory continued as a senior, as Taylor became a legitimate threat from long range and ranked second in the SEC in scoring at 16.4 PPG. More importantly, he verified his status as a guard-anyone threat, drawing assignments against point guards and power forwards and limiting players like Erving Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in matchups. With the speed to cover shooters out past the three-point line and the strength to hold his own in the paint, the "Swedish Eagle" emerged as a versatile defender whose diverse offensive game finally started to match his defense as a senior.
The biggest concern should be Taylor's ability to adjust to a bigger stage mentally. The Swede tended to drift in and out of games on offense, particularly as a younger player. Taylor was able to improve on this inconsistency as he grew as a player, but there were still times in 2012 where he drifted out of the team's offense. That may not be a major issue if he's playing on a stacked NBA offense where his role will be to defer to veteran players, but it could affect his stock if he ends up with a rebuilding team that is relying on him to be aggressive on most possessions.
It is important to note that his defense did not lag similarly. Taylor was a committed defender throughout his offensive funks, and those assignments may have been a stabilizing factor when it came to getting his game back on track.
Taylor's draft stock seems low for a player who improved throughout his college career, connected on over 42 percent of his threes as a senior, and has a 40" vertical leap to go along with his prototypical small forward body. He's hampered by a very strong draft class, but may also suffer since he's been a known commodity for four years now. At 23 years old, he's lost some of the luster that teams may have seen from him as a 20 year old. Even though his progression at Vanderbilt has been impressive, he may lose out amongst teams choosing potential over demonstrated skill.
Still, Taylor made no mistakes in playing out his full four years at Vanderbilt. His growth as a player reconciled elite basketball skills to a young man who was more athlete than baller when he first got to Nashville. Jeffery Taylor has the skills to be an impact player in the NBA for many years to come. He'll need to work hard, listen to his coaches, and commit himself to the game above all else to get there. Fortunately, that's something he has excelled at during his time as a Commodore.