Facebook Twitter

MAILMAN INSPIRES YOUNG ATHLETE’S COURAGE

SHARE MAILMAN INSPIRES YOUNG ATHLETE’S COURAGE

Among the stories told in Denver during the NCAA Final Four this week was the continued success story of Donald Taylor, this year's recipient of the United States Basketball Writer's Most Courageous Award.

Unlike past recipients of the Most Courageous Award, most of whom have recovered from a life-threatening accident (Notre Dame star David Rivers in 1987, who came back from a serious car accident), or fought courageously a life-threatening illness (LSU player Mark Alcorn in 1981, who later died of cancer), or performed a heroic act (Pittsburgh assistant coach Reggie Warford in 1984, who rescued children from a burning building in 1984), Taylor, who comes from New York City, was feted because he has managed to live a normal life - under extremely abnormal circumstances.If you consider not having a home an abnormal circumstance.

Taylor, his three brothers, and his mother, Evelyn, live in a shelter for homeless people in Harlem.

Every night, more than 500 people line up for supper.

The Taylor family was forced into the shelter over a year ago when circumstances made them leave their apartment building in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn.

As suburbs go, Prospect Heights isn't exactly Beverly Hills, but it isn't 143rd and Lenox in Harlem, either, where the homeless shelter is located. Moving there was not a move up.

When he was first faced with the news that he and his family were moving, Donald didn't want to tell anyone.

"I was embarrassed," he said at the awards ceremony in Denver. "No kid wants to say he's living in a homeless shelter."

Worse yet, Harlem, borough-wise, is a Queens and a Bronx away from Brooklyn - an hour's subway ride, each way.

At 17, and in his junior year of high school, it would have been easy for Taylor to adopt the lifestyle of the majority of his new roommates - scout out a bench in Central Park, stake a claim on it, and spend his days on the streets.

No sooner had he arrived at the shelter than he had several job offers, all offering quick money, good hours, nice fringe benefits, and a promise that nobody would take out anything for taxes.

But he didn't want to deal drugs, or take them.

What he did want to do was continue to attend school at Prospect Heights High, and play for the basketball team there, where he was on the verge of what everybody said was a promising career.

When his family moved to Harlem, he remembered what Karl Malone once told him.

Yes, that's Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz power forward. Malone learned about Propsect Heights and its coach, a woman named Debbie McIntosh, from the TV show "60 Minutes." A year ago, early in the 1988-89 season, Malone visited Prospect Heights to talk to the team when the Jazz were in New York to play the Knicks.

"He took time to talk to me personally," said Taylor. "He told me what to do and how to do it. He told me to work hard, to never give up. He has been a big influence in my life. He's made me work twice as hard."

Taylor was absolutely sure that Karl Malone wouldn't quit even if he were forced to move to a homeless shelter on the other side of New York.

So he didn't quit either.

This past season he has not only been the New York subway system's frequent rider of the year, but in between rides he has successfully passed his courses at Prospect Heights High, and scored 30 points a game for the basketball team.

At the end of the season, the University of Maine offered Taylor a scholarship to play basketball at Maine next season, which he accepted. When the Most Courageous Award came along, with a $1,000 cash prize to be donated to the organization of Taylor's choice, he designated the money to the University of Maine scholarship program.

Taylor said he's looking forward to going to college in Maine. He's especially looking forward to having his own room.

But he also said that living in the homeless shelter wasn't as bad as it might seem.

"I owe a lot to my mother," he said. "She pulled us all through. She always said that it doesn't matter where we live, as long as we live together. Every parent out there, just understand your sons and daughters. With your inspiration we all can make it."