Step inside the Rio Grande Valley Vipers locker room after a shoot around and you will find rookie guard Isaiah Taylor in his comfort zone — joking with his teammates while boasting an infectious smile.
Taylor’s newfound joy catches the eyes of many observers. Playing with more confidence than ever before, he is once again having fun playing basketball, thriving in the fast-paced offense that the Vipers’ coaches
However, Taylor’s current good fortunes are a far cry from where he was nearly a year ago.
At that time, Taylor was coming off a devastating loss to Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, ending his junior season without any postseason success. He then declared for the NBA Draft despite receiving mixed information about his draft position.
The draft approached, and it became apparent teams were going to pass on Taylor. Instead of fulfilling his dream on draft night, Taylor was left with no certain future in the game he’s played his entire life. Scouts speculated that he might regret his decision to leave college early.
Then, his professional journey took an unexpected turn.
The Texas-ex signed a partially-guaranteed contract with the Houston Rockets as an undrafted free agent and was later assigned to their NBA Development League Team, the Vipers.
Invigorated by the opportunity to prove his worth as a player, Taylor used the skepticism from league scouts to propel him to a new level in the NBA’s minor leagues.
“A lot of people took me for granted and didn’t think I could do what I’ve done,” Taylor said. “Not being invited to the (NBA) Combine or getting drafted, it added fuel to the fire.”
Thanks to the Viper’s run-and-gun system, Taylor has become a legitimate NBA prospect. Taylor has utilized his team’s fast pace and emphasis on quick shots, averaging 20 points and over six assists per game.
He has improved his shooting percentage from 40 percent from the field and 29 percent from three at Texas to nearly 50 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
“All three of my coaches have done a good job of putting me in a position to succeed,” Taylor said. “It’s truly been a blessing (to be here.)”
Such improvement is what makes Taylor happy he found a home in Hidalgo, Texas.
At the end of last month, Taylor signed a new three-year deal with the Rockets and was recalled to Houston on Sunday. He was sent back to the Vipers on Wednesday.
Vipers head coach Matt Brase sees the Rockets signing Taylor as a symbol that he could be on his way to greater things at the NBA level.
“Not only is he a great player, but a great person as well,” Brase said. “The Rockets have seen that for a long time now by scouting him when he was at the University of Texas. You know Isaiah has a real bright future, and I’m happy for the guy.”
Some, however, are unsurprised by his success at the professional level. Darrin Horn, one of Taylor’s assistant coaches at Texas last season, always believed that his former pupil had the mental makeup and athletic ability to do something special.
“He was a guy that gave everything on practice or on game night,” Horn said. “Anytime you got a guy that has his athletic basketball ability and that competitive drive, you have a guy that has the chance to be
Gifted with a perfect opportunity with the Vipers, Taylor has made the most of his short time in the Development League. While he’s yet to play in an NBA game, he’s close to realizing that dream.
Ask him if he regrets leaving Texas early, the always confident Taylor will give a resounding answer.
“No,” Taylor said. “Not at all.”