King ditches hoops royalty for NAIA comeback

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Taylor King should have been easy to spot this weekend.

He could have heard almost 20,000 Villanova fans roaring as he camped under the backboard and grabbed a clutch rebound or buried a 3-pointer against Georgetown in a packed NBA arena. Those kind of cheers would have rattled throughout Madison Square Garden where faithful Duke fans flocked to New York’s famous arena to root for the Blue Devils against St. John’s.

Throw in UCLA and King has so much basketball blue blood gushing through his circulatory system, that he’s one storied stop away from becoming a one-man Final Four bracket.

He could still be playing for the Bruins, or for the Blue Devils or Wildcats, where national TV, national rankings and national championships are the standard. He could still be enjoying the first-class perks this sport has to offer.

But he’s not. In fact, all King wanted, at the end of last season, was to quit.

“It was not fun at all for me,” King said. “As a matter of fact, I hated it.”

He was burned out by the sport he once ruled as a junior high sensation. And he was distracted while dealing with family strife and some dubious decisions that wrecked his second season at Villanova. He wanted to return home to California and find a school where he could disappear from basketball and simply study and work.

But if you look closely _ real closely _ you’ll find that King is still around and shooting. He may be 3,000 miles away from the Big East battles Villanova is now engaged in, but he’s playing, and that makes it a comeback worth watching.

NAIA powerhouse, Concordia, a tiny Christian college in Irvine, Calif., is his new home. And he’s making the most of it. King scored 21 points for the Eagles Friday night in front of an announced crowd of 2,747 at Azusa Pacific University.

Not exactly a Big Monday matchup. But you won’t hear King complain, either.

“It’s been a crazy ride,” King said. “Not the ride I thought I was going to be on.”

Who could have guessed this career path when King was a can’t-miss kid at Santa Ana’s Mater Dei. He had committed to play for UCLA and Ben Howland in 2003 before his freshman year, then would reverse course two years later for Duke.

When King decided Tobacco Road was the wrong route to the NBA, he shifted his career again and signed with Villanova.

He sat out a season and was in the uncomfortable situation of watching his new team beat the Blue Devils in the 2009 NCAA tournament. King made a quick impact the next year on the Big East power as a reliable rebounder and double-double threat. He had a 19-12 game, dropped 20 points on Saint Joseph’s, and had a three-game stretch where he made 11 of 22 3s.

His fun was cut short, though. As the Wildcats raced to a 20-1 start, King’s minutes and production dipped to the point that, for a player with his skill level, it was clear something was amiss.

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