“Family.” The single word that Head Georgia Women’s Basketball Coach Joni Taylor used to describe our wonderful University of Georgia. She embodies this family concept in all that she does. When you watch the Lady Dogs play, every single person in the coliseum will see the sense of a family run through the team. The most important thing in her life is her family. If you look in the stands at most home Lady Dogs games, you will see Joni’s parents, in-laws, husband, and daughter supporting her as she coaches. I know I didn’t ask Mr. John Frierson, but hopefully he won’t mind me using what he said about Joni. He recounted Joni always wants to talk to you despite the environment. For Mr. Frierson, it was halftime of a Lady Dogs game. While Joni was in game mode, she still found the time to say hello to Mr. Frierson. He said, “Although it was something so small, it showed who she truly is.” Just as family is the one word she uses to characterize UGA, class act are the two words that define the one and only Joni Taylor.
The Meridian, Mississippi native has been around the sport of basketball since she was eight years old, and she definitely picked the right profession. Following her childhood days of basketball, she continued her career in the sport as an exceptional player at Alabama. Immediately after her playing years, she turned to coaching. From 2001-2005, she spent her time with Troy as an Assistant; then she moved onto Louisiana Tech until 2008 where she was an assistant/associate head coach. Next, she found her way back to her alma mater, Alabama, as an assistant from 2008-2010; she then travelled to conference rival, LSU, also as an assistant coach. She stayed at LSU from 2010-2011. She then got a call from Andy Landers, and her most recent coaching move was to what she calls home now, the University of Georgia. She assisted under Coach Landers from 2011-2015, and finally took over as the head coach in 2015. Succeeding a legend like Andy Landers would be no easy task unless your name is Joni Taylor. So far, she has done a great job filling the gigantic shoes of Coach Landers.
Lady Dogs Compared to the Boys of Fall
I told Joni prior to this question that our mutual friend Jeff Dantzler, repeatedly says that Joni is the Kirby Smart of women’s college hoops: both young, talented, loads of potential, focused, and great recruiters. Through the coaches comparisons, I asked how the two teams compare. In their similar mindsets, Joni said that both have the same goals in mind, National Championships. She stated that both have similar mindsets in recruiting too. They each want to enhance the positions they have by recruiting pieces around them to take the team to the next level. Joni mentioned that to go about this way of recruiting, the program pursues ladies who fit both on and off the court. In Joni’s eyes, in order for them to succeed here they have to succeed in the three major categories: basketball, academics, and community service.
In terms of boosting recruiting, it was a major plus when senior, Mackenzie Engram, was drafted by the Atlanta Dream in this year’s WNBA Draft. Joni remarked, “I think it’s the expectations… I think it shows our players and the prospects we’re recruiting this is what happens at Georgia if that’s what you choose to do, and you put in the work to make that happen.”
The University of Alabama is her alma mater, so I did have some speculations that they’re might be a little conflict in who Joni would cheer for. I was completely wrong. Joni said, “Oh, I was Georgia the whole way. When Alabama is not playing Georgia, I want Alabama to be successful, but anytime Alabama is playing Georgia, I want Georgia to win and to kick their butts. I was all Georgia that day.” Simply a confirmation question.
Georgia VS. All Other SEC Schools
Coming from the opposite side of the league, Joni has definitely experienced other conference schools as a player and coach. Joni said that in ways we are a lot alike other SEC schools with similar facilities and resources. She said, “In our case, women’s basketball, you’re going to fly charter and stay in really nice hotels. Whether you have Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour contract, you are going to get tons of gear, so those things are the same.” According to Joni, we differentiate from other schools in the term family, Joni’s theme. “You look across the board, and you will see that we have teams in every sport who win National Championships: swimming, track and field, tennis, golf, equestrian, gymnastics. UGA is there. You don’t have that type of success across the board in that many sports unless from the top, down, you’ve got something a little different. That’s where I would say Georgia has set themselves apart. They are concerned about every sport. They are not just a football school.”
“I love that man with all my heart. I think about him everyday. It’s funny. Someone asked me last week, ‘When you walk in this building, are you ever thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is mine.’?’ I’m like no. When I walk in this building, I think, ‘This is Coach Landers, and all of the former players.’” I was utterly blown away by this statement. The Lady Dogs have never been just her team. It is Coach Landers’, the former players, and the fans’ team also. Joni continued, “That’s what drives me everyday. This program was built by him, and the former players that he brought here who put their blood. sweat, and tears into putting Georgia women’s basketball on the map and national prominence. My job is to enhance that as best I can with the staff we have. I’m honored that I was chosen to replace him. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far and looking forward to the future.”
Georgia Football and Women’s Basketball Predictions
In the strong words of Joni Taylor, “We are going all the way!” “I say National Championship. That is my prediction. That is what I would love to happen. I know that is what Kirby is coaching for, so that’s what I’m speaking into existence.”
Moving over to hoops, Joni seemed a little more cautious yet optimistic. A visible problem that needs fixing in Joni’s eyes was the gap. According to Joni, you could see that when the Lady Dawgs played Duke, Texas, and other teams of that caliber, the team basically could not hang. The gap was there. “Our expectation is to close that gap,” responded Joni. She claimed that their goal is the pinnacle, a National Championship, but they’re not there yet. Joni commented, “We talk about big goals, but we also talk about little things that you can do every single day to make you better. So closing the gap is what our players have heard all summer, believing in more, and believing in what it takes to close that gap. We can believe in Final Four and SEC Champions, but we also have to believe in the things we don’t want to talk about: the running, nutrition, and getting stronger in the weight room.”
These things are what will get us to the next level. Joni Taylor is the next level. A class act that is willing to put herself on the line for the Lady Dogs and the University of Georgia. Thank God for awesome people like Joni. Thank you Joni for a fantastic interview and thank you in advance for leading the Lady Dogs in what I know will be a historic upcoming Georgia women’s basketball season.