By Josh Sigler
Taylor Persons’ first recollection of the thought of playing basketball at the NCAA Division I level came in the sixth grade.
A dream that started six years ago became a reality late Friday night, when the Kokomo senior-to-be committed to Northern Kentucky University, a school new to Division I located just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Highland Heights, Ky.
“Playing Division I basketball has always been a dream of mine, a goal that I’ve always worked for,” Persons said. “I never wanted to settle for less than that. I’ve always worked toward fulfilling my dreams of playing Division I and professional ball. Now that D-I ball is a reality for me, I have to keep working towards the rest of that dream.”
A 6-foot-2 guard, Persons was selected as an Indiana Junior All-Star following last season, and drew a start in the squad’s first game of the summer Friday night against the Kentucky Junior All-Stars. He finished with six points, six rebounds and three steals as Indiana outlasted Kentucky, 108-102, in overtime at Greenfield-Central High School.
It was in the car ride back to Kokomo that Persons felt it was time to make his decision.
“I got to thinking about it,” he explained. “I didn’t wake up Friday ready to commit, but thinking about it in the car on the drive home, I came to realize Northern Kentucky is the best fit for me and the best decision I could make. I called the coach during the drive home and committed. I feel like I can go play stress-free basketball the rest of the summer and work on my game and not have to worry about making this decision. I can just go get better and win games for my AAU team, the Eric Gordon All-Stars.”
Northern Kentucky announced in 2011 it would make the transition from NCAA’s Division II to Division I. The school left the Great Lakes Valley Conference for the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2012, and will be eligible for NCAA Division I postseason action starting in the 2016-17 school year, which would be Persons’ junior season. The Norse basketball squad went 11-16 in the 2012-13 season under coach Dave Bezold, who just completed his ninth season as NKU’s skipper.
“Northern Kentucky has a great facility and a great coaching staff. They showed me the most love,” said Persons, who also had campus visits scheduled with IPFW, IUPUI, Wright State and Gardner-Webb this summer. “For a program like that that’s just getting into NCAA Division I, I like the idea of being a part of history if we could make the [Division I] tournament for the first time in the program’s history. That’s a big part of why I chose to go there. I committed there because I feel under-appreciated by bigger schools. I feel like I can go to Northern Kentucky and prove myself [worthy]. That’s be a big deal for me.”
Persons has been a key cog for the Wildkats basketball program since arriving on the scene as a freshman in the 2010-11 season, when Kokomo finished the year 23-3 and were runners-up in Class 4A.
“He’s a great of example of what hard work and being a great teammate can do,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “We’re excited that we have an opportunity to have him for one more year at Kokomo High School. Tayler Persons is as tough a basketball player there is in the state, maybe even the country. His mental and physical toughness are just outstanding. That’s one of his greatest attributes, but he has a lot of others, as well.”
Persons helped lead Kokomo to a 20-5 record and a sectional title as a sophomore, averaging 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while playing alongside future Indiana All-Star and University of Evansville recruit D.J. Balentine.
As a junior, Persons led Kokomo to a 7-0 run in league play on its way to an outright North Central Conference championship for just the second time in program history. The Wildkats went on to a third straight sectional title before bowing out to eventual 4A state champion Carmel in the regional round. Kokomo finished 22-3, its third 20-win season in as many years with Persons in the rotation.
Persons led the squad in scoring at 17.4 ppg and added 5.7 rebounds and 4 assists per night, landing him his second straight KT All-Area first-team appearance.
“He has a very high basketball IQ because he’s played a lot,” McCauley said. “He’s a very good teammate. I think he was the best teammate [Friday] night in the Junior All-Star game. He’s a solid passer, a good shooter and a very good rebounder. He handles the basketball well and defends well. Those things that he does well at the high school level for our team will translate well to NKU. Obviously, they’re excited to add Tayler to their program.”