Shawn Taggart, 24, the former University of Memphis standout who decided to forego his final year of college eligibility to pursue his dream of playing professional basketball, has been signed to a contract to play for Ironi Nahariya of the Israeli Premier League.
Shawn Larell Taggart, son of Charleine Taggart, was poised to be become a fifth-year senior at the U of M in 2009-’10. He is a highly skilled big man with shooting touch out to three-point range and a burgeoning post game.
Taggart averaged 20.2 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game and 4.0 blocks a contest as a senior at Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, NC, leading the team to a prep school national title.
He followed that performance up by being named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team in 2005-’06 before transferring to Memphis.
During preseason drills over the summer of 2006, he tore the ACL in his right knee and was forced to spend his transfer year rehabilitating the injury, setting back his progress.
He was a reserve on the 2007-’08 Tiger team that went 38-2 and fell in the National Title tilt to Kansas, 75-68. Taggart was the first big man off the bench for that team and even started 9-of-39 games, averaging 17 minutes per contest while scoring 5.8 ppg and snaring 3.9 rbp.
He also chipped in with 37 blocks on the year, shot 50 percent from the floor and converted 64.6 percent of his free throws. He scored 12 points against Texas in the Elite Eight and came back with seven points and seven rebounds against UCLA in the Final Four. He closed the year out with two points and three rebounds versus Kansas.
He became a starter upon the graduation of Tiger post man Joey Dorsey. He pitched strongly forward to average 10.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 1.4 blocks per game in 25 minutes for a team that played it’s way to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Taggart stands 6’10” and filled out to 238 pounds by the time he left the U of M. He graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in May of 2009.
At his relatively advanced age, Taggart had little to gain from returning to Memphis and entered his name for consideration in the NBA draft in April 2009. He signed with an agent in June, thereby officially ending his college basketball career.
He is joining a Nahariya squad that plays in the highest league in Israel’s professional basketball ranks. The 12-team Premier League, known as Ligat HaAl, includes one of the most renowned non-American franchises in the world, Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Maccabi, founded in 1932, has won 48 Israeli Premier League titles, the Israeli States Cup 36 times, the European Cup five times, and the Triple Crown (Israeli Premier, Israeli Cup and European Cup all in the same season) a record five times.
Nahariya was relegated to the second league in 1994, and the third league in 1996 before climbing back up to second season in 1999 and regaining premier status in 2001, where they have remained since.
Ligat HaAl teams play once a week from late October till late April, when postseason play begins for teams which qualify.
From their home city in Northern Israel, head coach Yakov Gino and his Nahariya charges went 10-12 in the regular season in 2008-’09, advancing to the Ligat HaAl Winner’s Cup, where they fell to Hapoel Jerusalem, 3-0, in the best-of-five series.
Nahariya scored 81.3 ppg (and surrendered 79.1) last season. The team subsequently re-tooled their roster for 2009-’10.
Leading scorer Ron Lewis (18.5 ppg) fled to the Euroleague, and the only other player who participated in all 25 games for the team, Yogev Ohayon, jumped ship for rival Hapoel Jerusalem.
Taggart will be competing for time with 1997-’98 C-USA Player of the Year DeMarco Johnson, who played for North Carolina-Charlotte at the time.
Johnson, 6’9”, 245 pounds, scored 21.1 ppg and nabbed 9.0 rpg during his senior year as a 49’er. He had a cup of coffee in the NBA with the New York Knicks in 1999-’00, playing just 37 minutes in five games. He has traveled the world playing ball since.
He played in Italy (with various clubs) from 1998 through 2005; in Spain with Etosa Alicante in 2006; and briefly in Greece with the prestigious Olympiacos, also in 2006.
In January 2006, Johnson played in Slovenia before settling in Ligat HaAl in the spring of 2007. He played with Ironyi Ashkelon for the balance of the season and into 2008. He moved over to Maccabi Rishon LeZion in January 2009, and now has landed with league rival Nahariya.
Other Americans on the squad include recently signed former American collegians Tasheed Carr (St. Joseph’s), Marc Egerson (Delaware), Kyle McAlarney (Notre Dame), and UAB’s Paul Delaney. Delaney will be a familiar face for Taggart. Delaney’s Blazers met Taggart’s Tigers four times in Shawn’s two years of participation.
Nahariya sports purple and white uniforms, and play their home games in the 3,000 seat Ein Sara Sport Hall. Their 2009-‘10 season begins on Sunday, October 25 versus Elitzur Maccabi Netanya.
Check back for periodic updates on Taggart’s progress, as well as reports on Robert Dozier with Kolossos Rhodes in Greece.