ASHEVILLE Except on the telephone, Jeff Taylor has yet to speak Swedish in Charlotte. He has yet to visit the Swedish part of town, also known as IKEA. But he expects to. When he goes to the Swedish home furnishings store, which sells Swedish meatballs, which he likes, he might speak his native language.
Taylor, whom the Charlotte Bobcats selected with the first pick in the second round of the NBA draft, grew up in Norkopping, Sweden. His father, Jeff, played basketball at Texas Tech and briefly in the NBA before playing in Sweden. He married a Swedish woman, Pia, and they had six children. Jeff is the oldest boy.
“Swedish was my first language, English is my second language,” says Taylor, 23. “The only reason I think I’m good at it is my dad (who is fluent in Swedish) spoke English to us, but I would answer in Swedish. I always knew how to speak it. I just never used it before I came here.
“When I have kids I’ll speak Swedish to them so they learn. I think it’s a shame when people don’t pass their culture on to their kids.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-7 small forward, played four seasons at Vanderbilt and three games against Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, whom the Bobcats selected 29 picks in front of him.
Kentucky won the first two and Vanderbilt beat the Wildcats in the SEC tournament final.
The Commodores needed Taylor’s points more than the Wildcats needed Kidd-Gilchrist’s, and Kidd-Gilchrist played only 16 minutes in one contest because of foul trouble.
These are the numbers from the three games. Kidd-Gilchrist: 17 points, 15 rebounds, four assists. Taylor: 50 points, 29 rebounds, four assists.
Taylor says he never thought he and Kidd-Gilchrist’s would be teammates. But he’s happy to be. He says their relationship is great.
“What jumps off the screen at you is just how hard (Kidd-Gilchrist) plays and how hard he competes,” Taylor says. “He’s also very skilled. He can handle the ball, he’s a very, very good finisher and rebounder, and he’s made great strides on his jump shot.”
Kidd-Gilchrist grew up in New Jersey, where the game is a lifestyle. Where Taylor grew up basketball was among other sports receiving votes. More popular, says Taylor, are soccer, hockey, handball and floorball, an indoor game that involves a bat and a ball with holes yet is not Wiffle ball.
Taylor remembers playing a basketball game as a 10-year-old in a dome used for hockey that was so cold he wore sweats beneath his uniform and could see his breath.
The rare NBA games that were televised came on at 3:30 a.m. On weekends, he got to stay up and watch. His favorite players were Reggie Miller and Allen Iverson.
Taylor’s father helped him enhance his game, and Taylor pushed himself by playing against older kids. He could have stayed in Sweden and played professionally in Europe. But he’d heard his dad’s stories about high school ball in Hobbs, N.M. When Taylor was 17 he moved to his grandmother’s house in Hobbs and his uncle, an assistant basketball coach at Hobbs High, took care of him.
As a senior Taylor averaged 30 points and led the Eagles to the state championship. He started four years at Vanderbilt and for his career averaged 14.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
Analysts projected him as a first-round pick. So did Davidson coach Bob McKillop.
In a four-point Vanderbilt victory against Davidson last December, Taylor scored 30 points.
“He’s as sleek and as smooth an athlete as you can imagine,” McKillop says Wednesday. “He’s a slasher, he can stop and hit the 3, he can catch and shoot, he’ll sneak in and get offensive rebounds, and defensively he’s a connector.”
By connector, McKillop means Taylor can guard both guard positions as well as small forward.
“There’s a bias against Swedish guys,” McKillop says. “Some scouts think they’re soft. But I have a Swedish player (Chris Czerapowicz) and I assure you he’s not soft.”
McKillop says Taylor isn’t, either.
“I’m just thrilled to see the Bobcats get him,” he says.
Taylor says he’ll take open shots and score on the break but will focus on defense and rebounding.
“You grow up and you think and you watch and you want to find ways to make yourself valuable,” he says. “Rebounding, offensive rebounding, is easy, it’s just effort. I just try to think of ways to make myself … a contributor.”
But when a pickup game of floorball breaks out in Charlotte, the selflessness ends and the Swede becomes a star.