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Former Basketball Star Inspires Inner City Youths in Los Angeles

Brian Taylor in the classroom

Brian Taylor in the classroom

Former sports star Brian Taylor has taken a message of hard work that he learned on the basketball court to the inner city classroom. In this week's installment of Making a Difference we introduce you to Taylor, who was a top basketball player at Princeton University, and he later played professionally. He is now an administrator with a group of rigorous schools for minority students in Los Angeles.

Brian Taylor tells his students that athletics and study are two sides of the same coin. He says he learned playing basketball at Princeton University that both take hard work and perseverance.

Taylor was Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 1971 and Rookie of the Year for the American Basketball Association two years later. He helped lead the ABA's New York Nets to two league championships, and later played for the San Diego Clippers and the Kansas City Kings, and the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association.

After 10 years in professional sports, he returned to Princeton to finish his degree, a move, he says, that later influenced a career decision.

"I said, 'What can I do to really distinguish myself and something that my family would respect me for?' And then I said, 'It's a no brainer. I have to get involved in education,'" he explained.

Taylor worked in Los Angeles as an administrator and basketball coach at an exclusive private school. But he thought he could make a difference in the inner city, where he says minority students often drop out and waste their talent.

The graduation rate for schools in many big American cities, including Los Angeles, is less than 50 percent. When Taylor's colleague Michael Piscal founded the Inner City Education Foundation, or ICEF in 1994, Taylor joined him. He says students value sports, so he has taken their focus on winning and applied it to academics. Today, ICEF runs View Park Prep and 14 other rigorous college preparatory schools.

Students work as hard in class as they do on the basketball court, and Taylor says they are succeeding.

View Park Prep test scores are among the highest in the state for African American students. And Taylor says students are finishing school and graduating. "We're very proud that of our first three graduating classes, 100 percent of our kids have not only graduated from View Park Prep, but also have enrolled in top colleges and universities in the United States," he said.

View Park student Sidney Labat says she likes science as well as sports. "I want to go to college and play basketball," she says,"I want to be a doctor."

Her friend, Danielle Pruitt, wants to combine sports with veterinary medicine. "Hopefully, I can play basketball and be a vet at the same time because I love animals," she said.

Taylor says sports and study together build character. He is involved in a program for coaches who teach adolescent boys to respect young women. The program is called Coaching Boys into Men. Taylor says it is another example of how sports can be used to teach bigger lessons. And he says his schools adhere to high standards for personal conduct.

Taylor says he wants to see this part of inner city Los Angeles harness unused talent and build a core of trained professional workers.

"And hopefully, I'll be able to come back when I'm old and on my cane to see all of the professional people - the doctors, the lawyers, the principals, the teachers. And that, I think, is where my legacy will lie," he said.