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Delayed dream finally at hand for new Chester coach Taylor

CHESTER >> After 13 years as a top assistant for the late Fred Pickett, Keith Taylor interviewed in 2008 to be the heir apparent to the legendary Chester boys basketball coach.

When the job went to another of Pickett’s protégés, Larry Yarbray, it was a difficult time for Taylor.

“It was hard in the beginning, just to come around; had to get myself together after that,” Taylor told the Daily Times Thursday. “But I always kept abreast of things that were going on in the program.”

It took nearly a decade to receive the delayed payoff, but the long-coveted post atop one of the state’s most illustrious basketball programs is at long last Taylor’s.

Taylor, another storied name in the program’s annuls, was approved by the Chester Upland School District board Thursday night to replace Yarbray as the high school’s varsity boys basketball coach.

Taylor’s credentials are quintessentially Chester with a lineage that connects to every Clippers coach of the last five decades. The 1987 Chester graduate is in the school’s 1,000-point club (1,048, 18th-most all-time) and Hall of Fame. He was twice on teams that lost in the Eastern Final, as a sophomore in Cliff Wilson’s last year at the helm and as a senior under the tutelage of Alonzo Lewis. Both times, Taylor and the Clippers lost to Carlisle and future NBA player Billy Owens, winners of four consecutive state titles then.

Taylor’s mentorship from Pickett is well known, and the coach who preceded Wilson, Dr. Juan Baughn from 1970-74, is the district’s interim superintendent.

Taylor went on to a distinguished playing career at Central State University in Ohio. He’s worked in the Chester school district since the early 1990s and serves as Chester High’s Climate Manager. He’s also heavily involved with youth coaching at the Boys & Girls Clubs and other organizations in the city.

Those accomplishments position Taylor as uniquely qualified to understand the challenges faced by Chester students.

“Folks from Chester, they like to see people from Chester do things, to run Chester,” Taylor said. “They don’t like to see outside folks come in and do things in Chester when you have qualified people in Chester that are able to do it.”

“That was the No. 1 priority,” athletic director Andre Moore said. “We needed a coach that the kids could relate to, especially since he was born and raised here in Chester. That was definitely our No. 1 priority.”

Taylor replaces Yarbray, who was let go after nine seasons. He led the Clippers to two state titles, including the program’s only undefeated state championship campaign in 2011-12, and four District 1 crowns, winning a shade over 80 percent of his games.

Even that, though, wasn’t enough to satisfy some of the notoriously lofty demands around the program. Though Baughn and Moore offered no specific reasons for Yarbray’s contract not being renewed, they expressed gratitude for his service, the duration of which falls roughly in line with his three most immediate predecessors.

“Larry Yarbray spent a significant number of years coaching basketball here at Chester, and I applaud that,” Baughn said. “We thank him. … Nine years is a very, very, very good amount of time as a basketball coach in Chester. We’re appreciative of his service.”

Baughn offered no comment on protests orchestrated in recent weeks by Dr. Horace Strand for more information regarding Yarbray’s dismissal. Instead of harping on the past, he and Moore chose to focus on the future of how Taylor would be evaluated in his job.

One job that Moore said is vital for Taylor dovetails with his position in the community and in the school: The need to engage Chester youth to ward off outside intrusions from private schools seeking to poach talent reared in what Moore regards as “Mecca” for Southeastern PA hoops. Derrick Jones Jr., of the Phoenix Suns by way of Archbishop Carroll, is but one recent leading example.

“The difference now is that we’ve got to be in the gyms,” Moore said. “No longer do you have the kid growing up on Kerlin Street saying, ‘I’m putting on the Orange and Black right away.’ They’re growing up, they’re going to Biddy (League) and they may want that, but when you have a coach say (something like a private school), they’re doing that. They’re in our gyms, they’re in our community centers, so now we have to have the same presence as a coach.

“We can’t just expect kids to come here to Chester High School. That’s no longer the case anymore. So when you say recruit, we have to recruit our own guys to stay in, because that’s what the outside coaches are doing.”

That evolving dynamic also fundamentally alters the expectations. When Baughn was on the Clippers’ bench, he didn’t have the encroaching worry of private and Catholic League schools constantly at his doorstep as much as other public schools in Delco who were an address change away from acquiring a star player. The ability of Class 5A teams like Carroll and Archbishop Wood to draw players from all over Southeastern Pennsylvania enhances their ability to compete for state titles, a luxury Chester is denied.

Taylor’s familiarity with Chester means that us-against-the-world proposition also isn’t novel. But it’s an exhilarating prospect for a new coach to rally his team around, one that has always heightened the sweetness of Chester’s myriad triumphs to a degree unmatched in the state.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Taylor said. “All of our success has come with kids from the city of Chester, instead of from the outside. Right here in the city of Chester, there’s a lot of talent. And every year, we come out and win. Yeah you’ll have down years, but still in the end, we’ve exceeded all expectations with the kids from our city.”

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