This is the first in a 50-day summer series, counting down the top players in Michigan State basketball history, as I see them. The criteria is impact and performance at MSU only, professional career irrelevant. Have your own opinion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
No. 50 – Marcus Taylor
Point guard, 2000-02, Lansing
The skinny: Taylor grew up in Lansing before Tom Izzo built his empire. As a middle-schooler, he’d already been anointed MSU’s savior, the next Magic Johnson, at a time when big-time recruits weren’t coming to East Lansing.
But by the time Taylor graduated Waverly High School after winning a state title, Mateen Cleaves had beaten him to the punch — leading MSU to a national title. That came only three months after Magic gave an insulting-to-Cleaves halftime speech at Breslin Center, imploring Taylor to stay home and bring the Spartans their first title since he had done so two decades earlier. Magic’s tone was dismissive of Cleaves and Co.
When Taylor finally arrived, MSU didn’t need saving, or building. He was a role player on the Spartans’ Final Four team in 2000-01, before leading the Big Ten in scoring and assists as a sophomore, as the best player on a young team. He then grossly misjudged his professional value, leaving for the NBA after two seasons — as Magic did — only to be drafted by Minnesota late in the second round. He was cut and never played a minute in the NBA.
Why he’s in the top 50: One could argue Taylor’s career at MSU is on par with that of Jason Richardson, even if their paths professionally part drastically. Taylor was a first-team all-Big Ten player, and had an incredible late-season run to become Big Ten’s scoring champion in 2002.
Had Illinois’ Lucas Johnson not landed on Taylor’s head in early February of that year, causing Taylor to miss a loss at Northwestern, the Spartans likely would have won a share of a four-way Big Ten title, and Taylor would be given credit for the Spartans’ fifth straight league crown.
Taylor is remembered for his mistake, for what might have been, for not being Magic, or Mateen. But there aren’t 50 better players or resumes in MSU basketball history.