This College Basketball issue marks the debut of Phil Taylor as an SI staff writer. Taylor, who has written a profile of Michigan State's Steve Smith (page 48) and the first edition of a weekly column that will appear this season under his byline (page 102), clearly recalls the moment he first knew that he wanted to work for SI. It was the spring of 1982, during his senior year at Amherst College, and he was supposed to be completing his honors thesis, a 100-page dissertation on First Amendment rights. Instead, he sat in front of a television set and watched the NCAA basketball tournament. "I ended up spending the most crucial 10 days of my research time stretched out on the couch watching basketball and talking about favorite SI stories with my friend Peter Putnam, the nephew of [SI senior writer] Pat Putnam," says Taylor. "That's when I decided that I'd really like to write for SI."
While Taylor, 30, never did finish that thesis, he has had plenty of opportunity to exercise his First Amendment rights. In college he reported on a variety of sports for The Amherst Student. "I started covering basketball after my playing days were over," says Taylor, who spent two years on the Lord Jeffs' bench. "I was the fifth guard on a team that only used three."
Taylor also attended more than his share of women's soccer games. "The Student asked him to write women's soccer stories because they knew he'd be at the games anyway—since he was dating me," says Taylor's wife, Joanne, who was a forward on the Amherst team.
After graduation, Phil went on to earn a master's degree in communications at Stanford. He then ricocheted from coast to coast, covering University of Miami basketball for The Miami Herald, the San Francisco Giants and Stanford athletics for the San Jose Mercury News and, most recently, college basketball for The National. Says Taylor of his newspaper days, "My strongest memories are from covering the 1989 World Series during the earthquake. All the lights were out at Candlestick, and a few of us sat in the parking lot and typed our stories by the headlights of my car."
Today, most of Taylor's stories are written in the more comfortable surroundings of his home, in Union City, Calif. He names his father, John, as the primary influence on his writing. "He is a retired Episcopal priest," says Taylor, who was raised in Hempstead, N.Y. "It was through listening to his sermons that I got a feel for how to use humor and anecdotes in a story."
Though Taylor has traveled a long way since leaving Amherst, some things haven't changed. Says Joanne, "The other day I was driving home with our two-year-old daughter, Emily, and I asked her what she thought Dad was doing. She answered, 'Sitting on the couch watching football.' "
Taylor's antennae are tuned to college hoops.