A Pioneer’s Journey

The story of Jack Taylor’s faith as he went from new kid on campus to national storyline


Jack Taylor found out firsthand what it’s like to receive unexpected fame as a college student. He put on his on No. 24 jersey for the Grinnell Pioneers on November 20, 2012 and scored 138 points in a basketball game. And people lost their minds.

“Put Up a Number”

You haven’t seen a style of basketball like “The System.” And before you can understand what Taylor did, you need to understand the context in which he did it. The warm-up shirts for this year’s Pioneer squad read, “Put Up a Number.” That symbolizes the attitude Coach Dave Arseneault, Sr. has for the team. If the Pioneers can meet certain statistical benchmarks, including shots taken and turnovers forced, the statistics say they have an extremely high chance of winning.

It was developed by Arseneault, (you can call him Coach A) in the late 80s. He took over a Grinnell program that hadn’t had a winning season in 25 years. He took the run-and-gun style of Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams to a whole new level – one that has resulted in Grinnell leading all of college basketball in scoring 17 out of the last 19 seasons.

Arseneault’s system involves rotating a fresh five players approximately every minute. They employ a full-court press all game. The three-point attempt is the golden egg of the system; the more attempts the better. Offensive rebounding is vitally important, and any board grabbed is sent back out for another three-point attempt. Ideally that attempt would be from the player who just missed the previous shot. Because of course it is. There’s a lot more to it, and FOX Sports Live has a video that can enlighten you further.

The System has standards that are appealing to any young basketball player, especially one like Taylor, who thrives on the offensive end of the court. Coach A plays his full 15-man roster equal minutes and encourages players to shoot the ball as much as possible. What’s not to like? Who doesn’t want to try this? Why did I use my collegiate eligibility playing jayvee soccer?

It took a while for Taylor to warm up to Grinnell. He turned down a scholarship there once after high school and once after a year in prep school. After attending the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse for a year, Taylor looked to move on once again for school in 2012-2013. Coach A wasn’t interested in being led on again, so he let his son/assistant coach Dave Arseneault, Jr. deal with throwing the bait to Taylor another time. “The third time he made it known Grinnell would be a possibility for him, I told my son he could recruit him if he wanted to,” Coach A said. “But I would not. I guess my son is a better recruiter than I am.”

“Basketball wise, I knew I made the right decision,” Taylor said. “Being an offensive player, creating [scoring chances] off my dribble, I knew I could get fit in the System.”

The Night

Taylor did indeed fit into the system, and that was no more evident than the game two nights before Thanksgiving in 2012. The season was young, but Taylor was “shooting poorly” and in a scoring nose-dive. With an obviously outmatched opponent, Faith Baptist Bible College, next on the schedule, Taylor was given the green light to shoot out of his slump.

So Taylor put the ball up. Again, and again, and again, and again. By the end of the night, Taylor had scored 138 points on 52-for-108 shooting. He was 27-for-71 from three-point range alone. Eighty of those points came in the second half. He shot the ball every 20 seconds. He scored 28 consecutive points for the Pioneers. Do you even have the ability to contemplate what those numbers mean?

ESPN interviewed him that night. He made an appearance on Good Morning America, the Today Show, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! the following day. Taylor was no longer anonymous; he was the topic of discussion in every form of media. One day he was a transfer-happy guard living in obscurity in the cornfields of Iowa, the next LeBron James wants a copy of the game footage. How does someone move forward from that point? What else could possibly be accomplished on the hardwood?

Taylor gave his best attempt to remain humble in the face of newfound fame. He plugged his faith in interviews at every chance, but the national stations never aired those segments. Taylor still came off as a good kid, constantly thanking his teammates and coaches in the ESPN interview he gave that night. A Christian though? No one would have known it thanks to big network editing.
The sheer quantity and scale of the interviews could have been intimidating for Taylor, but he was ready, or at least as ready as a college student can be for national attention.

“I wasn’t scared,” Taylor said. “I had been praying and asking God that if I got that opportunity, that I would use that platform for his glory, and not my own.” He admitted it was “hard to remain humble,” but the way he deflected praise in interviews drew the eyes of fellow Christians around Grinnell’s campus.

“By the end of the night, Taylor had scored 138 points on 52-for-108 shooting. He was 27-for-71 from three-point range alone. Eighty of those points came in the second half. He shot the ball every 20 seconds. He scored 28 consecutive points for the Pioneers. Do you even have the ability to contemplate what those numbers mean?”

Long before Taylor was the one turning heads on campus, he had to have his eyes set a different direction.

Running in transition

Basketball was the easy part. From an academic and spiritual perspective, Taylor was unsure about what Grinnell held for him. According to U.S. News and World Report, the school is known to be one of the top liberal arts schools in the nation. Taylor would receive no special treatment as an athlete. As a member of NCAA Division III, athletic scholarships are not allowed to be awarded at Grinnell.

The school is also known for being noticeably liberal in comparison to the private colleges surrounding it. Many of the students are not religious in any sense, even fewer actively practice a faith at all. Taylor was a relatively new Christian when he arrived on Grinnell’s campus. He had only become a committed follower of Christ about a year earlier when a teammate at his prep school shared the Gospel in such a way that it clicked for Taylor. He had gone to church as a kid, but it hadn’t really taken root in his life.

“I was partying, cheating on my girlfriend, really just living for myself and the game of basketball,” Taylor said. “I realized basketball had become an idol for me.”

Taylor had a conversion in the radical sense that the old self had passed away. He chose to take the experience of his past with him, but the verve of parties and thrill of new girls no longer brings him the energy it used to. That girlfriend he cheated on? They worked through it together and are tying the knot this summer.

Spreading the floor and spreading the Gospel

It could be easy to expect Taylor to split Grinnell’s campus into two sides, an “us-versus-them” mentality. The Christians being pictured as the few who must remove themselves from the negative influence of secular higher education. It’s the fear of turning into “one of them.” He doesn’t fall victim for that imagery. Mission trips over breaks and the summer don’t interest him because he sees the need to “reach the lost” on campus.

“There’s a lot of people here looking for love and looking for acceptance,” Taylor said. “It’s really challenged me to share the Gospel in a loving and accurate way.”

Taylor believed that most of the Bible studies offered on Grinnell’s campus “weren’t biblical. They looked at it through their own lens, how they wanted to see it.” This meant that instead of looking at Scripture and adjusting their lives as the Spirit lead; they chose to adjust Scripture to how they had been living. So Taylor started his own Bible study. Today, about 30 men are involved in a group called “Legacy,” which has been a chance for connection and accountability amongst the Christian males on campus.

“Legacy is a place to gather and worship and meet people that you may otherwise not have known, or not have known they were Christian,” said Morgan Kinsinger, a member of Legacy. The senior was a captain on Grinnell’s football team the past two seasons and was asked by Taylor to be a part of the Bible study. “Going to a secular school it can be difficult finding like-minded individuals, and in a tough academic environment it’s easy to push my faith to the side,” Kinsinger said.

What Taylor has helped form is a place for Christian males to gather and deal with the specific problems that face them in their outnumbered position on Grinnell’s campus.

“There’s a lot of people here looking for love and looking for acceptance,” Taylor said. “It’s really challenged me to share the Gospel in a loving and accurate way.”

A career in basketball is still an option for Taylor after graduation. He’s hoping to play overseas for a few years before untying the sneakers and putting on scrubs at medical school. He can see himself returning to Black River Falls, Wisc., the place he calls home.

“I’d like to use my platform back home . . . because our society really values sports and that gives me an opportunity,” Taylor said. “I’d like to be able to work with youth who might be living like I was. I’ll use this platform as long as God allows me.”

It is anyone’s guess how long Taylor’s record will stand. All it takes is one coach finding an overmatched opponent and a player with a hot hand, and Taylor may find himself in second place. Will people still care about the message he is sharing? When will his name fall into the pot of forgotten facts used on Stump the Schwab? Should any of that matter? The refreshing vein in this story is that Taylor believes he can have significance for spreading the Gospel outside what he has done on the basketball court. But he’s certainly not rejecting the opportunities draining three-balls has provided, and isn’t looking for that to stop anytime soon.

And maybe that’s what the other 98 percent of college students who will never be famous need to take away from Jack Taylor. Whether it’s a corner 3 or a conversation on the Gospel, the most important thing you can do is take your shot.

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