Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
• What: High school state basketball tournament
• When: Four semifinals starting at 3 p.m. Feb. 28; two championship games starting at 6:10 p.m. March 1
• Where: Orleans Arena
• Cost: $10 at the door
Noah Taitz squares up for a 3-pointer at the top of the key after receiving a pass in a practice drill at Bishop Gorman High. A defender over-commits in an attempt to contest the shot. Before the teammate can fully extend his hand, Taitz flies past him and charges down the lane for an easy layup.
“He’s such a good shooter that everyone just naturally focuses on that,” Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice says. “But he does a lot of other things. He’s a lot more athletic than people realize.”
Despite dealing with foot and knee injuries throughout the season and missing six games, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound junior shooting guard is the co-leading scorer—along with classmate big-man Isaiah Cottrell—on the powerhouse Gaels roster at 16 points per game. Taitz is also a key to Bishop Gorman’s hopes of adding an eighth-consecutive state championship as the postseason continues through March 1. In the February 19 regional semifinals, Taitz hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Coronado, 70-67, and send Gorman back to the state tournament.
“This school has a lot of history and legacy behind it, so playing for Gorman, you do everything you can to keep the legacy going,” Taitz says. “It’s on us to keep it going now.”
Taitz is a little different than his forbearers tasked with keeping the streak alive. While several of Gorman’s leaders through the years garnered NBA buzz from the time they were in middle school, Taitz ascended more slowly. He says his dream going into eighth grade was simply to play in college. He started drawing recruiting interest that summer, but it wasn’t until after his success as a role player off the Gaels’ bench his freshman year that he began piling up scholarship offers.
College courting exploded during his sophomore season, when he averaged 17.5 points per game and drew the attention of practically every West Coast school. Now a consensus four-star recruit and a top-100 national player, Taitz says Stanford, Washington, Southern Cal and Saint Mary’s are the universities recruiting him hardest. “I’m just trying to keep improving,” he says. “This stuff is all about never settling, always trying to get better and just staying hungry.”
Taitz’s offensive game is tailor-made for basketball’s modern age in that he’s a threat to score from anywhere on the floor at any time. He made 51 3-pointers in 20 regular-season games this year.
Shooting came naturally, Taitz says. He supplemented ability with a lot of work to become efficient, but other parts of his game took longer to refine.
To work on aspects such as ballhandling and defending, Taitz has practiced twice a day for as long as he can remember. On days when Bishop Gorman doesn’t have a game, he’ll attend school and practice, complete homework and then head back to the gym before going to sleep. “Ever since third or fourth grade, I’ve been a gym rat,” Taitz says. “I just always want to be in the gym working on my game.”
His dedication has paid off in the biggest moments. In the state semifinals against Reno High as a freshman, Taitz ignited for 17 first-half points. He responded similarly this past year in the regional finals against Clark, a team ranked higher than Bishop Gorman coming into the season, and finished with 28 points after going 9-for-15 from the field. “I didn’t realize it in the moment, but that was the biggest game for us,” Taitz says.
Taitz’s playoff breakouts the past two years came with players like Jamal Bey, currently a freshman at Washington, and Chuck O’Bannon Jr., a sophomore at Southern Cal, on the roster as the Gaels’ go-to guys. There’s no one for Taitz to cede to this year. The Bishop Gorman dynasty rests in his hands, a place where Rice feels it’s secure.
“I think he’s more comfortable and not feeling the pressure,” Rice says. “I think every player at every level should feel a little nervousness or anticipation for a big game, but when you’ve been there and played in big games and taken so many big shots and made so many big shots, it’s going to be a little less. He’s ready for that big moment.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.