Maria Taylor is a likeable television personality.
If you are a sports fan, you should know her. Taylor (pictured at Rupp Arena) is the one with a dynamic personality and a friendly smile, appearing as a studio host and reporter on ESPN and SEC Network.
And it helps that Taylor has a very good background in athletics. During her younger days in middle Georgia, she was a two-sport standout in volleyball and basketball at Centennial High School in Alpharetta, where she earned All-State honors in both sports. In addition, Taylor, a National Honor Society member, was also the homecoming queen in 2004 and was chosen the Fulton County Scholar Athlete of the Year in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
The Georgia Bulldogs liked what they saw about the 6-2 student-athlete, offering her an opportunity to play both sports. Once again, Taylor became a two-sport standout, earning All-SEC volleyball team honors three times. She also served as a student representative on UGA Athletic Association Board of Directors.
Taylor was asked if she had any unforgettable moments against UK during her earlier days.
“We never beat Kentucky in volleyball but I always loved playing in Memorial Coliseum because the Wildcats had great crowds for both women’s basketball and volleyball,” she recalled.
Taylor graduated from Georgia with two degrees – bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism (2009) and master’s degree in business administration (2013).
Shortly after graduating from UGA in 2009, Taylor had a chance to play pro volleyball overseas but she decided to bypass it after a talk with her basketball hall of fame coach Andy Landers, who has since retired from the sidelines and currently appears on the SEC Network as a women’s basketball analyst.
“The most memorable conversation I’ve ever had with Coach Landers took place right before I graduated college,” said Taylor. “I was contemplating going overseas to play professionally or staying in Athens to start a full-time job in media.
“Coach Landers warned me to take the job offer and not let the short-term luster of having a couple of fun seasons overseas get in the way of starting my long-term goal of being a sports broadcaster.”
Ironically, several years later, Taylor and Landers often appear together in a national television studio, analyzing the games. How does she feel about that? Awesome would be a good word to describe their friendship and working relationship.
“Coach Landers and I work together on NCAA women’s basketball tournament and spend countless hours in the studio working Big Mondays (featuring top women’s college basketball games) leading up to and during the Final Four,” said Taylor. “Sitting side by side with him at the desk is just a reminder that I’m on the right path.
“Coach Landers is like a father to me and there is nothing like having one of your best friends or mentors, sitting with you the first time you host national championship coverage of any kind.”
Even though she attended Georgia, Taylor said it’s not that difficult to be an objective journalist when she is covering a game involving the Bulldogs.
“It is easier than most people think,” she commented. “I will always want the best for my alma mater and be grateful for the opportunities it has given me and I will always want to bring positive publicity to Georgia.
“But at the end of the day I’m a professional and I have plenty of meaningful relationships with programs, players, and coaches around the nation. I would never give preferential treatment to one university over the other. It is my job to be unbiased.”
Back in November when UK faced Kansas in Champions Classic in Chicago, Taylor had a seemingly awkward moment with Kentucky coach John Calipari during an interview while he was grabbing her arm, creating another mini-controversy with a sideline reporter. (As you may recall, a Laura Rutledge-Coach Cal interview was the other mini-controversy.)
“I think people did not understand that Coach Cal and I had an existing relationship so when they saw him touch my arm they wanted to make it more than it was,” she explained. “But it was no big deal we both laughed it off and I encouraged the public to move on as well afterwards.”
Taylor got to cover the Alabama-Georgia national championship game in football in her hometown of Atlanta last month and that was really special. But she also had another memorable moment as a reporter, too.
“The highlight of my career is working my first national championship. And for me that was the women’s basketball national championship a season ago,” Taylor said. “For me that was the gateway to being able to work on (ESPN) College GameDay and to be trusted to work a college football national championship as well. So, I will never forget being in Dallas for UConn upset (by Mississippi State in a national semifinal) or being the host that got to reveal the field of 64 (in women’s NCAA tourney) and the path all teams would have to go through to make it to a national title.”
Asked about her most embarrassing moment on television, Taylor smiled. “(It) was making up a word in my postgame interview when I worked the Rose Bowl (after the 2015 season) for the first time. Productition was the word!”
During the interview, she was trying to describe the stunning performance by Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in a blowout victory over Iowa and accidentally came up with that new word.
Thanks to Maria Taylor, I guess Mr. Webster will need to add that word to his famous dictionary.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the executive editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo of Maria Taylor by Jamie H. Vaught