FORT MILL — If the fictional character Jimmy Chitwood from the movie Hoosiers had a sister, it would be Taylor Yarborough.
Chitwood, the best shooter in a small Indiana town, helped to guide his team to the 1954 state championship in the Hollywood version of the story of Milan High School.
Once Chitwood joined the team, he put the squad on his back to carry them to a state title. For Yarborough, carrying a team on her back is nothing new.
The pre-season Region 3 player of the year, Yarborough, a senior at Nation Ford, helped to guide the Falcons last year nearly single handedly, averaging 20.3 points per game and seven rebounds. This year she looks to lead Nation Ford to the playoffs.
“Last year, she put this team on her back,” said Nation Ford girls head coach Mike Smith. “That girl has earned every accolade and honor she has received. She is one of the top three high school players I have ever coached.”
This year, with more of a supporting cast and help surrounding her, the sky is the limit for the Falcons. And Yarborough’s goals are lofty for the team.
“I want to go to the state championship game,” she said. “Or at least make it to the third round of the playoffs, because that is the furthest the girls or boys basketball teams have ever been.”
Personally, she has already accomplished some goals including setting a school record by scoring 41 points in a game last season, something she calls her best moment to date on the court. This year, she has other goals she is looking at accomplishing.
“I want to make it to 1,000 points,” she said. “I’m pretty close. I think I have to average around 20 a game and I just want to get better for college and improve for that.”
As far as college goes, she is on the radar of a lot of programs, but is keeping her options open. Right now, she is looking at Belmont-Abbey College and Guilford College, but that could change.
“I hope to have more offers by the end of the season, because this one is the one that counts,” she said. “It will be fun to play basketball in college. I am excited to play.”
There are more than just two schools hankering for the guards attention.
“There are Division I schools looking at her,” Smith said. “She is going to have a fabulous college career. She works her tail off in the offseason. She is calling me and asking me to get into the gym and the weight room.”
Yarborough likes to use the mantra “Ball is Life,” a fair summation of her own existence. Playing the game since she was 5 years old, Yarborough gave up volleyball and soccer once she got to high school to concentrate on basketball.
“That is when I decided I wanted to play just basketball,” she said. “I was actually better at soccer, but I really like basketball.”
Yarborough describes basketball as fun, but says it’s more to it than just the enjoyment it brings her.
“It’s hard,” she said. “It’s physically and mentally demanding.”
However, giving up volleyball and soccer wasn’t the only thing she has sacrificed for the game. She said there are a lot of things such as attending Friday night football games and hanging out with friends she voluntarily gives up to concentrate on making her game better.
“I have put my whole heart into training,” she said. “You have to give up a lot to be successful. On weekends, I am always out of town because we have (AAU) tournaments and stuff. It’s a job.”
Yarborough said she is okay with the job aspect of putting the work in.
“It’s what I want to do,” she said. “I want to go to college to play basketball.”
Mentally before a game, Yarborough tends to shut the world around her out.
“I just make sure my head is in the game and I don’t joke around,” she said. “I get serious.”
As serious as she is on the court, off of it, Yarborough said she is a jokester and doesn’t take life too seriously. One day she would like to be a coach and already is cutting her teeth at it by coaching elementary school kids at First Baptist Church in Rock Hill.
“You get to make the kids better,” she said. “And want them improve and know you made a difference.”
Coaching younger kids, Yarborough said she can now relate to how her coaches feel when coaching her and the Falcons.
“It’s hard to get them to listen and do what you say,” she joked. “I hope we aren’t like that. If so, I feel bad. ”
Players to watch
Asia Potts, Rock Hill- senior guard; Franquia Byers, South Pointe- senior guard; Aubriana Thompson, Northwestern- senior guard; Ieshia Love, Northwestern- senior guard; Paige Samuelson, Northwestern- senior center; Taylor Yarborough, Nation Ford- senior wing; Madison Hendrix, Fort Mill- sophomore guard; Arianna Grevious, Fort Mill- senior guard; Carrie Lee Lancaster, York- junior forward; Elizabeth Edmunds, Clover- junior forward; Phoebe Johnson, Lancaster- senior center; Kyia Hough, Lancaster- senior guard; Mo Fisher, Lewisville- senior guard; Rikoya Anderson, Lewisville- 8th grade guard; Diamond Simpson, Chester- senior forward.
• Ronnie Robinson’s Lancaster squad will be tough this year, and should push Nation Ford and Northwestern for the Region 3-AAAA championship. The Bruins sport a pair of Division I basketball signees with seniors Kyia Hough (Western Carolina) and Phoebe Johnson (UNC Wilmington). At 6-foot-4 and with decent mobility and skill, Johnson is the real matchup headache for most high schools in the area. Northwestern, with similarly-sized post player Paige Samuelson, might be the best equipped for that challenge.
• York hasn’t experienced too much success since the Cougars won a region title in 2010, but there is optimism for the future. Paula Blackwell’s squad includes five freshmen, a sophomore, three juniors and two seniors. Junior center and 2012-13 All-Area selection Carrie Lee Lancaster is the top returner, and will have to help lead a young but talented team that hopes to get York girls’ basketball back into the limelight.
• Stephanie Butler takes over as head coach at South Pointe after a very successful tenure at Butler High School in Matthews, N.C. Butler replaces Brett Childers who moved on to assume the same position at Fort Mill. Butler was 120-26 during her five years at Butler, and won the 2010 state title. South Pointe’s program will require some building after the graduation of a number of players, but Butler’s track record suggests she’ll have no problems completing the job.