Taylor Statham 'hoping for an opportunity' to make an impact in the PBA

IN A DEEP draft class that could potentially produce many future PBA stars, one name that intrigues many observers is that of Taylor Statham, a 6'6" shooting guard, who has an all-around game that could take the pro league by storm. He first got media attention in the Philippines when this writer introduced him to the local basketball landscape back in 2014, while he was still playing for the University of California in San Bernardino (CSUSB) Coyotes (also Jimmy Alapag's alma mater), who compete in the US NCAA Division II. He played there for three years, and in his last year, he started all 26 games, averaging 9.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg.

Taylor's grandmother is a Filipina from Iloilo, thus paving the way for his possible connection with the PBA, where he will be considered a Fil-Am if drafted. He was always very active in the Fil-Am leagues in the US. At present, he and some other Fil-foreign prospects are in a race to complete their papers before the league-given deadline, in order for their names to be placed in the roster of eligible draftees come draft day on March 14.

Since ending his career at CSUSB in 2015, Taylor has been a well-traveled cager. He came to the Philippines shortly after his university career to try his luck in the PBA D-League, but despite being drafted highly, never got to play because of some technicalities. He played for some other semi-pro teams for minor leagues while in the country, including the FEU-NRMF commercial team coached by Oliver Bunyi. Interspersed with stints in Philippine tournaments, he played in Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Thailand, and continued to regularly make appearances in both the US Drew League and Impact Academy League, where professionals and high-caliber college/university players participate.

Statham, a cancer survivor, is multi-awarded in almost every league or tournament in which he participated. He was MVP in the Hong Kong Kung Sheung Cup tournament back in 2016 for the champion team, was named the best small forward in the Thailand Basketball League in 2017 and 2018, where he was the scoring champion in 2018 (best league average and career-high 57 points) and part of the mythical team, with averages of 28.6 ppg, 12.3 rpg, and 6 apg. In the Indonesian Basketball League, he garnered many accolades as well, including the top assist total in a game (17) and the highest scoring output (46), both achieved in 2017. He was named Player of the Game and selected to all-tournament rosters numerous times. The list of his achievement and awards goes on and on.

In recent years, Statham became a popular figure in the realm of Philippine 3x3, as he was a mainstay in tournaments held here and even abroad, where he represented the Philippines on occasion. His 3x3 player ranking steadily rose through the years, as he showed his inside-out game and his relentless drive to succeed. Not too long ago, he was included in the US 3x3 national pool.

The versatile player had the opportunity to privately work out for the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and the Clippers a few years ago. In the Drew League, he was one of the top five scorers and earned multiple Player of the Week citations., which led to his participation in a tournament in China with a group of Drew League standouts.

WHILE BUSY with his own involvement in basketball tournaments and leagues worldwide, Taylor found the time to establish The Statham Academy, a now six-year endeavor, where he and his colleagues work with thousands of players from different levels. More than 40 Statham Academy alums were able to sign professionally and more than 50 were recruited by major colleges. The Academy has held dozens of events in six different countries. Already a mentor to many aspiring players, this is Taylor's way of giving back to the community and sharing his knowledge and skills even as he continues to pursue his goal of playing professional basketball, particularly here in the Philippines.

Because of his packed schedule, Statham, a Lakers fan whose favorite player is Larry Bird (!), has had to turn down offers to play in various countries, including Serbia, Finland, Argentina, and Mexico, among others.

Because he has been in and out of the Philippines for many years, he is well-immersed in its basketball landscape. He has quite a following online and local fans have been asking him for many years when he will make the jump to the PBA. Hopefully, if the Fates allow, he will be included in the pool and his name will be called, probably very early.

"I am really hoping for an opportunity to play in the PBA. This is an extremely talented draft pool," said the 28-year old. Many of his co-potential draftees are old friends of his. "Josh (Munzon) and I played each other in the same conference in college for years. I've known Mikey (Williams) since college and played him throughout the years in the Drew League, we worked out together, and had him play in my all-star games for charity." He also played against Jason Brickman in Thailand and recalls that he had his first 50-point game there against Brickman's team. Since he was a regular on the 3x3 tour, he battled against Alvin Pasaol and Leonard Santillan. He also named several others whom he either played with or against in some leagues or whom he mentored at one time or another. Alaska's Maverick Ahanmisi, the third overall pick in the 2015 PBA Draft, was his high school teammate.

"[Getting drafted] will be another great challenge. I pride myself on my work ethic and bringing a winning culture to whatever team drafts me." When asked if he sees anyone in the PBA with a game similar to his, he replied, "I don't really compare myself with anyone, but there's a lot of great PBA players past and present that I highly respect. Stanley Pringle, Matthew Wright, Ray Parks, who all had similar paths being successful in different countries and then transitioning to the PBA very well. I like Sean Anthony's game, (Jayson) Castro, (RR) Pogoy, Paul Lee, LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson," said Taylor as he rattled off the names of some of the best players in the PBA today. "I really enjoy watching winning, efficient basketball."

While Taylor doesn't compare himself with any current PBA player, coach Bunyi does. "I can compare him to Joe Devance because he's smart, but a lot quicker, or to Jared Dillinger, but not as quick." Interesting that the comparison is with two lefties, even if Statham shoots primarily with his right. On Taylor's game, coach Bunyi said, "He's very talented and has a very high basketball IQ. He's about 6'6", plays very comfortably and is very efficient at the SG position because he can shoot, dribble, and pass. He'll surely have a lot of mismatches in the PBA with his size and strength and he can also guard smaller guys not because of his quickness but because he's a thinking player. No wasted moves."

The downside? There doesn't seem to be much, but coach Bunyi mentioned that "he's quick-tempered. He easily gets irritated by the Pinoy style of 'defensive tricks.'" But, Bunyi is confident that Statham can overcome that. "I'm sure he already adjusted since it's been three years since he last played for me." We shall see.

In reply, Statham said, with a smile, "Everyone who's competitive has a hot head! I play with fire. Too much buddy-buddy in basketball these days. We can be friends after." An old-school mentality to go with a present-day game, it seems. It may work.

With a dynamic and almost unbelievable combination of size, strength, experience, versatility, skills, attitude, and high basketball IQ, Taylor Statham may just be the next dominant player. All that's left now is for his papers to be signed, sealed, delivered, and approved by the set date and that he will have a chance to showcase his skills in the PBA.