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Marvin Taylor is a big reason USF is on a roll

For a moment last Thursday night, Marvin Taylor thought the worst: His basketball season, perhaps even his South Florida career, was finished. Diving for a loose ball, Taylor collided with two Old Dominion players, twisting his back like a pretzel. Trainers and coaches knelt beside him for several seconds. Taylor writhed in pain. Finally, he was carried off on a stretcher.

"I twisted my body in a real awkward manner," said Taylor, a 6-foot-1 point guard. "I tried to get up, but I couldn't. There was just too much pain. It was real scary.

"I'd been through a lot in my life. A lot of adversity. But I'd been able to overcome it. I knew I'd be back."

Indeed, he was.

Just 48 hours later, Taylor started and scored 12 points in a 75-66 win against Virginia Commonwealth. He then had a career-high 30 points in an 80-70 win against Western Kentucky on Monday.

"Taylor had a great, great game," Western Kentucky coach Murray Arnold said. "We knew he was dangerous and tough. And he was."

Old Dominion coach Tom Young is even more impressed with him. Taylor scored 19 points, including the game-winning basket with 11 seconds left in overtime for a 94-93 USF win, in the teams' first meeting on Feb. 7.

"Every team needs a good point guard and since Bobby (Paschal) has been there,

he hasn't had a true, quality point guard," Young said. "Marvin Taylor has changed that. He's the reason they've improved drastically."

The Bulls, who play at Jacksonville today, are 17-8 overall and 9-4 in the Sun Belt Conference. After three years of mediocrity (21-63), USF is poised for a possible post-season appearance _ its first since the 1985 NIT.

"Marvin's had a huge impact on our team," Paschal said. "He adds a lot of quickness to our team. He's able to put quite a bit of defensive pressure on the opponent's point guard and has an uncanny knack to come up with steals."

He's second on the team with 44 steals and saved a game with one against Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond on Jan. 29. With three seconds left and USF clinging to a 68-65 lead, Taylor stole the ball from VCU's Lionel Bacon before he could take a three-point shot.

Offensively, Taylor is even more dangerous. He orchestrates the show as the point guard (5.0 assists a game), and he moves the ball up court so quickly that opponents often can't set their defense.

He's averaging 11.5 points a game (fourth on the team) and is equally dangerous going to the basket for a layup or pulling up for a jump shot. Just ask North Carolina-Charlotte.

Taylor sank a three-pointer with one second to play, giving USF an 89-86 win at Charlotte on Jan. 4. That ended the Bulls' losing streak of conference road games at 10.

"Marvin's ability to penetrate is something we desperately needed," said USF senior center Hakim Shahid. "He sets the tempo and he keeps us in sync, and if you don't have anybody to do that, you can't win too many games."

Sophomore guard Radenko Dobras ran the offense a year ago and did well, Paschal said. But Dobras was still learning English and the American style of basketball and the pressure of doing all the ballhandling and a lot of the scoring exacted a heavy toll.

"I'd be so tired toward the end of games last year," Dobras said. "Now, there's less pressure on me to bring the ball up and I have more energy to do other things. Marvin has really meant a lot."

It's been a uphill battle for Taylor. He suffered a knee injury as a freshman at Yazoo City (Miss.) High and then was ineligible as a junior. At that time, trouble dogged him more closely than any defender could.

"He came from a bad neighborhood; a real bad situation," Yazoo City High coach Andrew Gapes Jr. said. "He used to have a temper and loved to fight. He was in trouble a lot."

Taylor said he was "feisty," but that was a lesson he learned at a young age. He grew up in the streets of Chicago and realized that "you had to fight 'cause everyone was just out for himself."

But when he was on the court, he was only trouble for the opponents. As a senior, he led his team to its first regional berth. In one three-game span, he didn't score fewer than 50 points.

"He was the heart and soul of the team," Gapes said. "We weren't picked to do anything in the district, but before the tournament, Marvin called a team meeting and kind of put a threat on their heads that they had better win.

"We went out and won the thing and it was because of his leadership. I still have a picture of Marvin on my wall that I point to as a role model for my players."

Taylor was recruited by several Division I schools, namely Oklahoma State and Washington, but he was a Proposition 48 casualty and opted instead for Holmes Junior College in Goodman, Miss.

"Marvin was still kind of on the wild side when he came to us," Holmes coach Bennie Kimble said. "But he made a big adjustment and matured a lot while he was here."

In retrospect, Taylor says going to junior college was the best decision he ever made. He had more individual attention in the classroom and wasn't lost in a sea of students.

Taylor averaged 24.5 points a game as a freshman and then 25.0 points and 6.0 assists as a sophomore, earning second-team All-America honors. He graduated from Holmes last January and enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana, but the school dropped its basketball program for financial reasons last summer.

"We had heard rumors for months, but we thought if they were going to drop the program, they would let us know sooner so we could find another school," he said. "Then we heard it on the radio. I didn't think it could be for real. I was shocked. I was working hard and looking forward to playing and then I was out in the cold. I was a little desperate."

As chance would have it, so was USF. The point guard the Bulls had recruited, Willie Fisher from Lake City Community College, was declared ineligible.

But Paschal had read about the Southeastern situation in USA Today and called there to find out if there were any players who might help his program. Taylor's name was mentioned.

"I flew out there and saw him in a little pickup tournament, and from what I saw he showed a lot of good possibilities," Paschal said. "We brought him in for a visit and he signed right away. And it's worked out pretty well for him and us."