Nicole Taylor was very young when she realized how much basketball meant to her. She was watching her older sister, Morgan, play AAU basketball and thought it would be fun.

“I went to all the tournaments she played in,” said Taylor. “And it was exciting. Just seeing her games, I said, ‘I want to do this. I want to travel. I want to have friends in other towns.’ “

At the time, Taylor was tall for her age. And she knew that was why she was better than most of her friends in the rec league.

“I knew that if I kept growing, and if I wanted to be like my sister, I would have to become an all-around player,” said Taylor.

And she has. A 6-foot junior center at York High, Taylor is one of the state’s top players. She led the Wildcats to an unbeaten season and the Class B state title. She’s also the Maine Sunday Telegram Most Valuable Player for girls’ basketball.

Taylor averaged 19.1 points and 11.1 rebounds, with 10 double-doubles. She has 1,075 career points (third all-time at York) and 742 rebounds (fifth).

She’s fueled by a passion for the game and, said Coach Rick Clark, works harder than anyone to improve. She’s been a starter since her freshman year, and the improvement has been noticeable each winter.

“After each season I have individual meetings with the players,” said Clark, who won his 400th game this winter. “I ask them what they think they need to improve on and then tell them what I think. After Niki’s freshman year, she hit it perfectly. I mean, I could have gone first and I would have said the same things.

“She said she wanted to go out a little further on her shot, she wanted to improve her foot speed on defense and she wanted to get stronger. And those are the things she worked on.”

Taylor now has the range to hit the 3-pointer — and said she’s going to work even more on her range this summer — and she’s a dead-eye foul shooter, hitting 80 percent this season. She’s strong, the result of weight training, and is a much better defender than as a freshman.

“Niki plays hard in practice all the time,” said Clark. “If she isn’t practicing hard, I know she isn’t feeling good. And even then she sometimes hides it. That’s what the younger kids pick up on.”

A young player such as Emily Campbell, a freshman forward who had eight points and six rebounds in the state title game.

“I can’t even tell you how much I’ve learned from her,” said Campbell, who often guards Taylor in practice. “She pushes us, tells us what we’ve done good, what we’ve done bad. She encourages us and sets such a good example.”

Taylor, who is trying to figure out where she wants to go to college, simply wants to play.

“I like being on the court,” she said. “It’s fun, and that’s what we told everyone this year before every game. Have fun.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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