Unlike most area high school teams, the Killeen Kangaroos aren’t a basketball squad with players that have been playing together for years, but fans wouldn’t know that from watching them play.
Even their coach, Reggie Huggins, has taken notice to the chemistry of this year’s squad.
“Let’s say Cortez Ivie, like at the Waco game, he scored 40 points,” Huggins explained. “Everybody was fired up about it, even though the Lions played defense and we lost in the end. Everybody was still giving Ivie the ball.
“But in previous years, they would have been a little iffy about it. But it’s been like this all year. They are all OK with playing their role, and if it doesn’t work then we find another way to score.”
The credit for that shift goes to senior Jackson Taylor.
Taylor transferred to Killeen as a junior after his father, Brig. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor —the commander of U.S. Army Operational Test Command — was relocated to Fort Hood after three years in Korea.
“It happens,” said Huggins of new kids moving in and joining athletics, “but not like it happened with him. Literally, from the first day, he made his presence known.
“Not in an ‘I’m going to score 80 million points’ kind of way but an ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to win’ way.”
From rebounding, to diving on the floor for the ball to reading the floor and finding the open player for the shot, Jackson does it all for Killeen.
A FAMILY OF ATHLETES
Perhaps the transition for the 6-foot-3 forward was made easier thanks to coming from a large family of athletes.
Taylor is the youngest of six children.
“It goes boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, boy,” Hank said.
“He messed up the pattern, so I said ‘OK, we’re done,” said Taylor’s mother, Cristen.
The Taylor clan has played a variety of sports from basketball to volleyball, football, baseball and even rugby.
“As parents, athletics has been a tool and vehicle,” explained Cristen. “The kids learn so much — they learn to win, they learn how to work with other people, how to fail, how to lose and how to win.
“It could be band or gymnastics, for our family, it was athletics.”
While Hank played baseball, he gives all the credit for the basketball legacy to Cristen, who played the sport growing up.
Huggins also gives credit to the Taylors and their family dynamic for giving Jackson the tools needed to make the transition easier.
“When you come from a big family, there’s a lot of communication that comes from that as a default,” Huggins said. “So he’s a very good communicator.
“He shows no malice. He won’t ever down a person; he’s always positive. He’ll always pick a person up, and I think all those things just work for him.”
Cristen and Hank worried, like most parents, about moving their son in the middle of his high school experience.
“Our biggest concern, of course, was academics,” said Cristen. “But also for him to have an opportunity to continue his athletic career.”
The Taylors previously lived in Copperas Cove 20 years ago and were expecting their youngest son when they moved two years later, but the trans-Pacific move was the first big relocation for Jackson.
OFF TO KOREA
While Hank spent three years on duty in Korea, it wasn’t until a year later that Cristen, Jackson and his older brother joined him in order to allow one of his older sisters, who also played high school basketball, to graduate.
“We were in Tennessee for 12 years, so when we moved to Korea that was my first experience moving, especially that’s such a big change overseas,” said Jackson. “So as a freshman, when you’re really opening up and trying to make friends, I guess I had to or else I would have been there for two years without anyone.
“So when I came to Texas I already had those skills and, especially through basketball, I’m able to find that your teammates are going to be your friends, and if you work hard, they accept you.”
Jackson was a multisport athlete in Korea playing basketball, volleyball and baseball.
But coming into high school as a junior with hopes of joining a team can be difficult.
Fortunately for Jackson, Huggins understands the transition military kids make when they move. His father, Command Sgt. Maj. Roosevelt Huggins served in the Army for 30 years.
Tryouts for the basketball team are held at the beginning of every school year and it was in first period P.E. that Huggins first saw Jackson play.
“He gets on the court and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how good this kid is,’” recalled the Roos coach. “But I knew he could play a little because you can see it sometimes just by how a player looks.
“But somebody shot the ball, he grabbed the rebound and took off down the court, and he made a pass to the other end of the court and I was like, ‘Yes, he can play.’”
Jackson remembers the story a bit differently.
“I didn’t want to be a junior on JV or anything,” he recalled. “I was nervous, but I said I was going to work hard.”
In an effort to impress the coach, Jackson chose to guard a senior in one-on-one drills.
“It was a quick guard and he flew by me and got an easy bucket,” said Jackson. “After that I just started locking down and showed coach that I could play a defensive game.
“That’s how I play basketball.”
Jackson made the varsity team and has become a vital member.
“He’s been an integral part,” said Huggins. “He started last year, he started this year and he came right in and immediately produced.”
“Sometimes it’s hard for military kids when they move to even have an opportunity with a coach,” Cristen said. “And then once you have that opportunity, then you worry about if he’ll be accepted by his teammates.”
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for Jackson. Throughout the offseason, the senior and his fellow Roos have spent lots of time together off the court. Even before Jackson made any Killeen team, he was accepted by his fellow Roos.
“When I first got here Nate (Kamper) and Brandon (Fox) were the first ones to come talk to me and make sure I felt welcomed at school and showed me where my classes were,” said Jackson. “Brandon even introduced me to Coach (Donald) Trcka, the baseball coach.”
And while some high school students aren’t always as willing to introduce the new kid to a coach in fear of losing their starting position on the team, that wasn’t the case at Killeen.
“Here, they’re going to introduce you because you can help the team,” said Jackson.
When Cristen and Hank first started looking into area schools to find the right fit for their son, they talked to various people before realizing that Killeen was the right fit for their family.
“We heard great things about the coaches at Killeen High School,” Cristen said. “And it’s been awesome.”
Since their son joined the basketball team, the Taylors can often be found in the bleachers cheering on the Roos decked out in maroon and Kangaroo apparel.
“It’s just part of our family dynamic,” Hank said. “We just knew we wanted to be part of the routine and it’s important to Jackson.
“Especially being in the military, when you come in they’re very accepting — the administration, the coaches, the families.”
Relocating to Central Texas has also opened another door for Jackson that he wouldn’t have had overseas — the chance to possibly compete at the collegiate level.
“It was a lot different in Korea because you didn’t get noticed at all,” Jackson explained. “We had big tournaments, like in Japan, and we’d travel, but unless someone there had a connection, then no one really noticed.
“Then coming here, I feel like I have the ability to play at the next level. and that’s when I really started trying to find out what I needed to do, what film I needed to get, and who to contact.”
And while Jackson could probably get into a college he’d like with his 4.5 GPA, his dad noted that it’s always nice to keep options open.
“We always want to create an option,” Hank said. “So if you work hard in school, work hard in the gym, work hard in the weight room, do all those things the best you can, then the opportunities will come.”
Cristen added, “At some point athletics ends, whether you can play in college or not, one day it’s going to end and so you have to have the academics, you have to be well-rounded and then have a good experience.
“If you can work hard and create those other opportunities, then that’s awesome.”
Although Huggins is only in his second year coaching Jackson, he sees what an asset the senior could be to any collegiate program.
“He does too many things that college coaches need,” said Huggins. “If we need him to dribble, he’ll dribble; if we need him to pass, he’ll pass; if we need him to score, he’ll score.
“He’ll guard someone on defense — he checks all the boxes of a guy that’s a winner.”
Though some college coaches look for a “cookie-cutter” athlete who is a certain height and averages 20 points a game, according to Huggins, that’s also how coaches overlook athletes like Jackson.
“They end up leaving out the winners, and the winners are the ones who will make it happen,” said Huggins. “That’s what makes him a winner because true winners refuse to lose, so they will do anything to make sure they win.”
While Jackson’s grades show his knowledge in the classroom, his high basketball IQ and ability to read the floor comes from an old coach back in Tennessee.
“A man named Rick Martin,” said Jackson. “When I first started playing basketball, he was my first coach, who was also the high school assistant principal.
“We would have practices where we would never even put the ball in the basket, but he taught me everything I need to know about the game and laid the foundation for when I moved to Korea.”
Thanks to Martin, Jackson learned that defense wins games, and how to take a charge.
“We would spend whole practices on how to take a charge,” said Jackson, laughing as he thought back on those early basketball days.
In the middle of his second season with the Roos, Jackson has found his role as a leader on the team but don’t ask him to explain how he bonded and connected so quickly with his teammates.
“I don’t know how it happened so fast either,” he said, shrugging and shaking his head. “I couldn’t tell you.
“But now I have these relationships and connections that people form over years and years, and it happened in a year — it’s pretty nice.”
His best advice for other military kids who transfer to a new school is to be willing to put themselves out there.
“You know who you are but you don’t know who they are,” he said. “So be open-minded, accept others and get involved in a lot of clubs and teams because that paid off for me.
“I’ve probably made the best friends in life here and we’re pretty close just because I joined the basketball and baseball team.”
From traveling to tournaments, grabbing a bite after a game to most recently scouting the Ellison basketball team together on their bye week, when they’re not on the court playing together, fans can find Jackson with his teammates just enjoying his time being a Roo.