Joni Taylor is proud to be #BuiltByMeridian
MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Joni Taylor may be in Athens now serving as head coach of Georgia women’s basketball, but she hasn’t forgotten where she came from.
“I see the #BuiltByMeridian and I’m just so proud to be from Meridian,” Taylor said. “I can’t speak enough about and fully express all the people who impacted my life.”
Taylor graduated from Meridian High School in 1997. That same year, she was named Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year for girls basketball. During her junior and senior seasons, she led the Lady Wildcats to a 67-7 overall record. Taylor also excelled in other sports, winning three state titles in track and field.
“We went to the state championship my sophomore year and competed my junior year and senior year. We always had really talented teams,” Taylor said. “When I was in tenth grade all five seniors on our team got scholarships to play basketball, so I was just fortunate at a young age to be around a lot of talent.”
A scholarship to play basketball was something Taylor hadn’t thought about until she got older. In fact, she didn’t even know such opportunity existed.
“I knew there were college teams but I did not know you could get a scholarship to play and go to college for free playing basketball,” Taylor said. “We had a girl named Latoya Wilson come stay with us for a night. My dad told me she was playing basketball for Tuskegee. I just asked her a bunch of questions and that’s when I realized you can get an athletic scholarship for being really good in a sport. That’s when the seed was planted.”
Taylor went on to play at Alabama from 1998-2001. During her time in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide played in the 1998 and 1999 NCAA Tournaments and the 2000 and 2001 Women’s National Invitation Tournaments.
After college, Taylor chose to pursue coaching. She made stops at places like Troy, Louisiana Tech, Alabama and LSU.
In 2011, she joined Georgia’s staff and became associate head coach after one season. Four years later, Taylor got her big break.
Longtime head coach Andy Landers announced he would be retiring after 36 seasons as head coach of UGA women’s basketball.
“When he called me into his office and told me he was going to retire I just boohoo cried. I was devastated,” Taylor said. “Then after he calmed me down, we talked about his desire for me to hopefully become the next head coach.”
Carla Williams, deputy athletics director at UGA, told Taylor the university would be considering her for the opening but planned to also conduct a national search.
A month later, Taylor received a call from Williams asking her to meet.
“I got into the athletics office and sit in front of her and Greg McGarity. They go into all these things and then finally they offer me the job,” Taylor said. “I was just like ‘holy goodness’”.
Fast forward six years later. Taylor and the Bulldogs are 12 days removed from a near upset of South Carolina in the SEC Championship, and now the team is entering the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed facing No. 14 Drexel on Monday.
From someone who didn’t know basketball could pay for college to now being a finalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year Award, Taylor has come a long way. While Taylor has achieved a lot at 42 years old, she knows her journey isn’t over yet.
“I’ve learned that a little basketball - a Wilson, Spalding, Nike or Under Armour - whatever little ball it is has carried me an extremely long way,” Taylor explained. “And it’s still carrying me an extremely long way.”
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