Taylor Black is the quintessential poster boy of Hamilton hoops. Growing up in Winona, Ont., a small town wedged between Stoney Creek and Grimsby, Black has played basketball in Hamilton at every level and is now, while donning Marauder maroon, one of the best players in the Steel City.

The fourth-year kinesiology student plays a style that makes the game look easy, but his ascent was anything but. Black played for the Blessed Sacrament basketball program – a Hamilton club that has produced many CIS, NCAA and Canadian national team players – while growing up.

He went to Orchard Park Secondary School, but didn’t cruise his way onto the junior team.

“In grade nine, I made the team luckily. I wasn’t a star player – I barely even played. There were guys ahead of me who were very talented, so I really had to work my way into the rotation,” said Black.

But by grade 12, he shot up ten inches and carved out his slashing forward playing style. He credits Orchard Park teammates like former Marauder Satar Wahidi for being able to go to battle every day in practice and making him a better player.

Universities in both Canada and the U.S. took notice of Black’s talents and showed recruiting interest, including Old Dominion, St. Bonaventure and Cornell. Despite the high-profile looks, heading anywhere but McMaster was not even a consideration.

“Canada is what made me who I am, and more specifically Hamilton, Ont. I don’t regret anything I’ve done so far,” said Black.

As a kid, he grew up watching Mac basketball and remembers seeing now-assistant coach Justin Gunter and his team play in the Burridge Gym.

Hopes were high as he entered his first year as McMaster athlete, and he was off to a good start until a blowout game against the Brock Badgers.

“We were up twenty or something. I had what I thought was a wide-open dunk and I went up and just got taken out. It was a flagrant foul and I tried hanging on the rim but slid off. I first dislocated my knee and then my shoulder came out,” Black said.

“I spent probably five minutes on the ground in pain while they tried to put my shoulder back in place. My knee just felt like it was in shock – I didn’t really know it was out or anything like that. But as I stood up, luckily gravity pulled the humeral head (the top of the humerus bone) back in. Usually that doesn’t happen.”

Black would have to go to the hospital, but remembers being humbled by having two prominent alumni in David Braley and Ron Foxcroft looking over the shoulder of the medical staff to ensure that he was getting proper care.

The left shoulder injury would require surgery that took place over the summer, eliminating the opportunity for Black to do any training during the offseason. Missed practice time put some rust on his game, and Black admits to having a poor start to his sophomore season.

But with Adam Presutti, Nathan McCarthy, Joe Rocca, Brett Sanders and Aaron Redpath – or the “Fab Five” as Black called them – joining the team, the home-grown product had to show that he was a big part of the team despite early struggles.

Fast-forward to third year, where Black rode roughshod over the OUA and earned an All-Star nod. He averaged 14.5 points per game while shooting 50 per cent and grabbing 6.9 rebounds per game. Black would also finish fourth in the conference in Player Efficiency Rating, a sabremetric statistic that attempts to boil down a player’s value into one number.

He has the opportunity and tools to be a CIS All-Canadian, something Black pointed out as a goal of is, but only truly recognized his potential within the past calendar year.

“Immediately after the [playoff] game against Lakehead, the coaches said to me ‘Taylor, that is something you need to bring every game’, and that is what really woke me up during the summer, to be training so I can perform like that every day,” said Black.

The next step for the fourth-year player is to continue to establish himself as what he describes as the “go-to guy” late in games and grow as a leader both on and off the court. He looks to Nathan Pelech to show him how to excel in the role, saying that Pelech is a “bigger leader than I am”.

Head coach Amos Connolly said that his would be Black’s program to lead one day. After a shortened rookie campaign and injury-hampered second season, it was unclear when that time would come, if at all.

But that day is here, and McMaster is on the verge of something big. Just how big that “something” becomes is up to Black. A Hamilton kid bringing a CIS championship banner to McMaster for the first time would be a storybook ending to a turbulent tale.

It’s all on his shoulders, but Taylor Black seems up to the task.

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