Kevin Stallings has coached players who thought their shooting was better than it really was.
Jeffery Taylor didn’t fit into that category last year.
Stallings, Vanderbilt’s veteran head coach, believed his wing player had the ability to make deeper jump shots. But it wasn’t easy convincing Taylor.
“Last year I thought he was a better shooter than he thought he was,” Stallings said. “Most guys think they can shoot better than they can. Jeff is very capable of making 3-point shots. As a matter of fact — we won’t ask him to do it much — but he has range that extends past the 3-point line, actually.
“It is just a little bit of an experience thing. He was a center in high school, and so I think it has taken him a while to develop his own comfort level with taking and making those kind of shots in games.”
This season, expect the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Taylor to not just drive inside and showcase his athleticism with powerful dunks. The junior plans to step outside more and take longer shots.
That added dimension could be big for the Commodores, especially considering that sophomore shooting guard John Jenkins will be drawing more attention. Last season, Jenkins averaged 11 points and shot 48.3 percent from 3-point range and was named the Southeastern Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year.
But opponents will be eyeing Taylor too, after he put together his second straight stellar season at Vanderbilt. The all-conference second-team selection averaged 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and nearly two assists a game in helping the Commodores reach the NCAA Tournament.
As the season wore down last year, Taylor said he felt his game started becoming a little limited.
“Toward the end it really started feeling that way,” he said. “That is a feeling I really didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to be limited as a player when I really didn’t need to be.”
Therefore, knowing he would have to step up after the departure of guard Jermaine Beal and center A.J. Ogilvy, Taylor added 20 pounds to his frame in the offseason and honed his skills.
“There were a lot of things I needed to get better at in my development as a player,” Taylor said. “I just took all the criticism and everything that people were saying to heart, and I worked at it. I worked really hard at it this summer.”
Taylor said a lot of the criticism he heard revolved around inconsistency in his perimeter shooting. Taylor, who was born in Norrkoping, Sweden, didn’t shy away from it, saying it was “true because I really didn’t shoot the ball a lot. I feel like if you want to get better as a player, you need to get better at the things that you are not as good at.”
Vanderbilt has three seniors but none of them are expected to start. Taylor, guard Brad Tinsley and forward Andre Walker — all juniors — boast the most experience.
Taylor, however, probably will be the Commodores’ most dependable scorer. He proved he could put up big numbers when he dropped a career-high 26 points against Tennessee last year at Memorial Gymnasium. By extending his game outside the paint, Taylor has the capability of being even more electric and being the go-to guy Vanderbilt missed at times last season.
“He will be a key for us,” Stallings said. “He will be a go-to guy for us. I don’t worry about his ability to take over a game. He certainly can be dominant in games. I just expect that will happen and hope that will happen with more frequency this year. And I think that it will.”