Playing in Peach Jam is a Taylor-made dream

Staff photo by Scott Rodgers Calvin Taylor plays for the Southern Stampede against the King James Sharp Shooters in the 16-year-old level of the Peach Jam. Taylor is the lone player from the CSRA competing in the tournament this year.

NORTH AUGUSTA — The Nike Peach Jam has returned to Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta for the 18th consecutive year. The tournament started in earnest Tuesday with the Sweet 16 Invitational Tournament, an event featuring the top 16-year-olds in the nation, and will hit full stride today when the 17-year-olds take the court for the first time.

The Peach Jam is known for annually showcasing the top junior basketball players in the nation. But it doesn’t have a great track record of involving area players in the elite event. There are certainly exceptions, but not many local players have participated in recent years.

The 2013 Peach Jam is no exception to the recent trend. The only player from the CSRA playing this week is Augusta’s Calvin Taylor, a member of the Southern Stampede in the Sweet 16 tournament.

Even though the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Taylor saw limited action in the Stampede’s loss to the King James Sharp Shooters Wednesday, he was beaming. That’s because the rising junior at Augusta Christian is fulfilling a longtime dream. This is the first Peach Jam Taylor’s playing in, but it isn’t his first Peach Jam. Growing up in the area, Taylor has been a regular spectator at the tournament. And he admitted that he’s often pictured himself out on the floor instead of in the stands.

“Growing up, it’s been my childhood goal – me in the Peach Jam,” Taylor said. “It’s a great tournament, and I’m honored to be here with the best talent in the world.”

While playing for the Atlanta-based Southern Stampede, Taylor said he’s had the opportunity to travel across the country and get to see NBA coaches and players – including LeBron James. He’s played in tournaments in Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Minnesota and Virginia among other locations. But Taylor said he got a special thrill taking the floor in North Augusta, playing in front of a contingent of family and friends.

“It’s a shock. Growing up, it’s where you want to be. To play is a good feeling,” Taylor said. “It makes you appreciate things more, doing what you love.”

Like most Peach Jam participants, Taylor’s happy to showcase his skills for the gallery of the top college coaches in men’s basketball. Taylor said he currently doesn’t have any college commitments, but if it works out the way he’d like, Tennessee and Georgia are among his top college destinations. Per recruiting rules, he hasn’t had any contact with Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin and Georgia’s top dog Mark Fox, but Taylor said he’s seen in attendance at his games this summer. The coaches, Taylor’s family and friends and other spectators will get the chance to see him and the Stampede in action today when they take on Canadian team CIA Bounce at 1:30 p.m.

The Peach Jam is as well known for the players on the floor as it is for the college coaches watching them in action. The Wednesday morning session had a unusually small amount of coaches in attendance.

One reason for that is because many were participating in the Nations of Coaches Celebrity Golf Classic at The River Golf Club. Everyone from North Carolina’s Roy Williams to Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and former College of Charleston and Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins were spotted on the links. But the big winner was North Augusta Parks and Recreation’s Jason Lynn.

Lynn was on the first-place team in the event, which was cut short because of lightning and rainy weather. He also hit a hole-in-one on the 13th hole to win a truck from Master Buick GMC. His ace was from 166 yards, and he used a 7-iron.

“It was maybe the best experience in my life outside of a couple of things,” said Lynn, who teamed with VMI coach Dugger Baucom as well as North Augusta Parks and Recreation director Rick Meyer, his son Trey Meyer and Brandon Pennington. “That’s probably the best way I can describe it. … I just feel awesome right now.”

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard. North Augusta Star news editor Scott Rodgers contributed to this report.