British basketball favourite shocks all with new challenge

Waking up on Friday morning in Staten Island, New York, British Basketball League mainstayer Zaire Taylor managed to finalise his latest contract for the upcoming season.

However, the 30-year-old guard’s new deal left BBL fans scratching their heads in disbelief.

Taylor, a BBL season and Finals MVP in 2013-14 with the Worcester Wolves and who guided the Leicester Riders to the treble in his first year as a professional, the season before, inked a contract with the Worthing Thunder – a team that compete in the National Basketball League – a tier below the BBL.

It certainly comes as a surprise to many, seeing as Taylor was still doing some damage in the BBL with the London Lions, averaging 16 points, 6.4 assists and 2.2 steals a contest last season, but after playing for teams that regularly compete for trophies and Playoff spots, the combo guard was keen to try something new.

Taylor’s move to the south-east of England is certainly a new and different challenge. Worthing finished in 12th place in the NBL Division 1 standings last season, one spot above the relegation places with a 7-19 record.

“I’m excited to get to come to Worthing and get rolling,” Taylor said.

“This will be a new and different challenge for me. I’ve always been on teams that compete for championships, like in Leicester, Worcester and in France. I feel that London were a team that could beat anybody and compete as well so coming to Worthing, where we finished near the bottom is a new one but at the same time, I am excited to get to work and help Thunder reach the top.”

Indeed, signing for Worthing definitely highlights the competitive side of Taylor, who is keen to help Thunder reach their successful years back in 2006 and 2007, when they won the National Basketball League titles and in the latter year, the Playoff crown, completing the double.

Following their domination of the National Leagues, Worthing joined the BBL in 2008 and in the team’s second season, reached the Playoffs where they lost to Newcastle Eagles in the first round. Financial problems marred the south coast side and they managed just one more season in the top league before returning to Division 1 in 2011.

Worthing have since reached the NBL Division 1 Playoff final in 2013 and the National Cup final in 2016 plus in their five seasons in the country’s second tier, have reached the post-season three times. However, they have failed to capture any silverware, something that Taylor is keen to change.

Despite an enthusiastic set of fans, Worthing Thunder have been in two finals since their return to the National Basketball League in 2011 and have lost both. Photo: Studio IV.

“I want to bring a championship to Worthing,” Taylor stated. “I understand the reality of things in Worthing right now. I watched a few of their games last season, and they were fighting relegation, which to a team with a tradition like Worthing’s is unheard of, but that highlights the toughness of the league that they’re in. Worthing had a good team, with a good coach but there were teams with better depth and more experience, I felt.

“But for me, personally … I’m a competitor, I want to win championships and I feel that we can build a team that can challenge for titles. At the same time, it’s a long way to the top and the team finished near the bottom last season so I won’t promise success straight away, but I know that the team that coach is bringing can challenge for top honours.”

Worthing Thunder’s last success came over ten years ago now, and Taylor admits that his goal with the club will be met with scepticism.

That doesn’t matter to the American though. The outside world can criticise all they want. He knows that new Thunder coach Daniel Gayle believes it and that he does as well. Taylor just wants the locker room to follow the path.

“Winning a championship can be done here, I know it’s far-fetched for the Worthing basketball community given where it’s finished previously but overall, Worthing has done well since coming back to the NBL, it just needs to get over the hump and lift some silverware,” Taylor admits.

“I’m not interested in what other people think about the club or if they think my goal is laughable. As long as my team-mates believe it and we have that mentality overtime we step on the floor. It’s all that matters to me.”