By Dawn Klemish, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Mykelli Taylor was the elementary schooler who’d heave up improbable long-range shots in practice, just to see if they’d come close. She was the one with the fancy dribbling and the exaggerated spin moves to the basket. While some teammates used the travel season as a social time, Taylor remained focused.
Although she’s taller now, not much has changed for the Charlotte High School senior. That’s what earned her Sun All-Area girls basketball player of the year accolades.
“She wanted to perform at her highest level, and when she wasn’t playing a well as she could, it would get to her.” Tarpons coach Mike Robishaw said. “She wanted to succeed, and wanted to win. It’s always been like that for her. “Plays with emotions … and definitely would always want to do what was right to win.”
Taylor has played basketball since she was 5 years old. Back then it was just fun, a way to get out and try out all the moves she’d seen on TV. Tongue out, miming NBA star Michael Jordan, she’d hit the lane again and again.
It didn’t take long before she met Robishaw, though, and from that point, Taylor had a new goal.
“I always wanted to play varsity basketball,” she said. “It was one of my biggest goals.”
So Taylor toiled until she did just that, earning a mid-season promotion from junior varsity as a freshman when forward Mallory Burton was injured. Sophomore year was her first full season, and then a junior year followed during which Taylor played major minutes, but Charlotte won just five games. Taylor felt like she had much room to grow.
And so she did what she’s always done when she had a goal in mind: Hit the gym.
“I definitely practiced every day over the summer, twice a day at least,” said Taylor, of the offseason before her senior year. “Just to figure out what I’m good at, what my shots are going to be. I got on varsity, then I wanted to play to college.”
The Tarpons summer regimen was full of shooting and it paid off. Charlotte hit the ground running behind Taylor, winning its first five games and 11 of 12.
The one loss suffered was to district rival Cape Coral, a 10-point defeat on the Seahawks’ court. Taylor played well in front of the Florida SouthWestern State College scouts but the game — which allowed Cape Coral to remain undefeated in the district — left a sour taste in her mouth.
Once again, she wanted more.
And once again, she got it.
“My favorite memory is that game,” she said, of the second Charlotte-Cape Coral showdown Jan. 14. “It was my best game.”
The Tarpons had just one district loss, to the Seahawks, who had none. Charlotte needed to win in order to tie at the top and force a post-game coin flip to determine the No. 1 seed. Wally Keller Gymnasium was packed down in Punta Gorda, and Taylor and the Tarpons were ready.
They didn’t disappoint, and led by the spindly senior’s 24 points they smacked the Seahawks 52-37, then won the coin flip to take the No. 1 seed into the postseason.
Taylor missed the playoffs when a broken hand suffered just before the district tournament began ended her high school career prematurely. But, Taylor’s team-best 13 points, five rebounds and three steals averages meant she got yet another wish — to continue her career in college.
If the past is any indication of what’s to come, Taylor can rest easy knowing her hard work and talent will continue to allow her to reach the goals she sets, and succeed at the next level, too.
“I just can’t see myself not playing basketball,” said Taylor, who recently verbally committed to Florida SouthWestern State College. “The competition and stuff… Ever since I was 5, that’s what I’ve been doing. “I love it. I want to do it as long as I can.”
Charlotte • Junior • Forward
A true competitor under the basket, averaging six points and seven rebounds. Her season was highlighted by a breakout game at rival Manatee in which she scored 18, including nine points in the last two minutes to give Charlotte a final edge in the 59-56 win.
Lemon Bay • Senior • Forward
Her season officially didn’t start until December after knee surgery during the summer, but she didn’t miss a practice in the meantime. The team leader made an emotional comeback to net a double-double on senior night, with 15 points and 13 rebounds against Bishop Verot.
North Port • Sophomore • Forward
Averaged a double-double in her second varsity season, with 12 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. She was the Bobcats’ leading scorer, rebounder and also owned the most blocked shots and steals this season.
Charlotte • Junior • Guard
Knew how to make things happen and draw the foul, shooting 76 percent (92-for-121) from the free throw line. She averaged 11 points, 2.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds, and was third on the team with 19 3-pointers made.
Charlotte • Junior • Guard
Ran the show at point, averaging 12 points, three assists and two steals per game. Her 30 3-point goals also led the team, and she was the one teammates looked to in order to set up the offense and control the action.
Lemon Bay • Senior • Guard
The main scorer, ball-handler and a solid inside rebounder was the do-all for the Manta Rays this season. She had a triple-double this year, and averaged 11.4 points, four rebounds, four steals and two assists per game.
Charlotte: Taylor Kirkus, Jamie Gonzalez
Imagine: Katie Klein
Lemon Bay: Francesca Gallucci, Lauren Maheu, Brianna Nelson
North Port: Allyson Stewart
Port Charlotte: Celia Baermann, Ashlyn Henderson