Taft coach Derrick Taylor aims for rare repeat in City Section finals
Woodland Hills Taft head coach Derrick Taylor has figured out what no other coach in the City Section has: How to stop Fairfax center Renardo Sidney.
The game plan in last year’s City championship was to attack him with senior guard Larry Drew’s ability to penetrate and either score or set someone up. In last week’s semifinals, they double-teamed him by fronting him and having another man at his back.
Both times, the plan worked masterfully. It earned Taft a City championship last year and has them on the verge of another as they face Westchester Friday night in the City Section Division I final.
Now going for his third City title in six years, the 45-year-old Taylor has not just become one of the City’s rising young coaches but a rising star on the national scene, having coached in the 2007 McDonald’s All-American Game.
He’s already sent two players to that game in Drew, now at North Carolina, and current Lakers guard Jordan Farmar, who was the catalyst behind Taft’s 2004 City championship.
It’s ironic that the Toreadors had to defeat Crenshaw in the quarterfinals to get here because Taylor was once interested in succeeding West two seasons ago. He figured then that he would have to inherit a successful program to continue what he started.
That’s not the case now as in his ninth season at Taft, he has created a program of his own. All five starters from last year’s championship team have signed to a Division I school, the latter two being current seniors Justin Hawkins (UNLV) and Terran Carter (Cal. State Northridge).
In addition to being a great tactician, he’s also defeated established programs during his rise, having beaten Fairfax in their last three meetings (including twice in the City finals) and defeated Westchester last season at their Tipoff Classic.
This will be the Toreadors’ first meeting with the Comets since that December 2007 victory and while the Comets have their own stellar point guard in Dominique O’Connor, you can be sure that Taylor’s crafting a game plan to slow him and his teammates down.
“Their strength is on the perimeter but that’s also our strength,” Taylor said, “It’s going to come down to a battle of wills.
He’s just one of several African-American coaches who have their teams poised for a championship this weekend.
Leuzinger head coach Reggie Morris Jr. hadn’t reached the Southern Section semifinals since his first season in 2003 but he has his team in the Division II-AA final to face Eisenhower at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Inglewood head coach Pat Roy has been to six CIF finals but has only won one championship (1994) during his 17-year tenure. That is something he hopes to change as the Sentinels face Ocean View Saturday in the Division IV-AA final at Mater Dei High School
It’s a different story at rival Morningside where head coach Donnell Meekins has turned things around in his third year on the job. Two years after going winless in league and finishing 3-24, he has the Monarchs (23-8) in the Division V-AA final against Pacific Hills tonight at Ontario Colony High School
“To get the program back up, it says a lot about the character of our players,” Meekins said of reaching the school’s first CIF final since 1997.
The two schools faced each in the season finale – a tight game where Inglewood won despite trailing by 15 in the final quarter. Both schools saw that victory as having prepared them for this moment.
Inglewood is looking for a double sweep as their girls’ team (15-15) will face Foothill in the Division IV-AA final tonight at Mater Dei. It’s the first CIF finals appearance in program history and for head coach Tony Scott, it’s something he could only dream of when he took the job five years ago.
“We knew that one day that we’d get to this point,” Scott said, “It’s been a long process and it’s our turn now.”
That’s something that Long Beach Poly coach Carl Buggs and Marlborough head coach Trenton Jackson know full well. On Friday, Buggs is going for his fourth CIF title in five seasons when Poly takes on Cajon while Jackson is going for his fifth consecutive as his Mustangs face Irvine Woodbridge.
Perhaps they can be in Taylor’s company as great coaches in their era but still, it’s not hard to see why Derrick Taylor stands alone, having earned his success in one of the CIF’s most difficult sections.
If last year’s title was about redemption after missing the 2007 postseason due to City sanctions, tomorrow night could be about validation for not just Taft, but Taylor as the new leader of the City Section pack of coaches.