Taylor Luczak got a little bit of ribbing from his college teammates this season about a certain former high school teammate of his.
Luczak, you see, played high school basketball at Glens Falls -- on the same state finalist team with Jimmer Fredette, the BYU phenom who won the Wooden Award on Friday.
Yes, Jimmermania even reached Starkville, Miss., where Luczak has been a walk-on at Mississippi State.
"They knew I knew somebody out there last year," Luczak said of his teammates, "but it wasn't until this year that he really exploded that they found out I played with him.
"The guys got on my case, ‘How come you don't shoot like that?' I just said, ‘Because he never gave me the ball,'" Luczak added with a laugh.
At a rangy 6-foot-8, shooting was never Luczak's job in high school -- as the Indians' post player, his job was rebounds, putbacks and kicking the ball back out to the scorers, like Fredette and Denny Wilhelm.
Luczak spent the last three years as a walk-on at Mississippi State; a practice player, really, who sits on the bench and rarely sees game action.
But he didn't go to Mississippi State for basketball -- he went for the education, and Luczak is taking every opportunity to excel in a demanding academic program.
Luczak is a triple major in political science, economics and East Asian studies, with an eye toward law school and international relations. His extracurricular activities -- including president of the university's Pre-Law Society and communications director of the Japan American Student Conference -- keep his planner filled.
Did we mention he speaks Mandarin Chinese? And he's beginning the paperwork to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship?
"He's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid; you don't see many of him," said Whit Waide, a law professor at Mississippi State. "He's as smart as can be, but he has no ego. He's one of the most willing-to-learn people I've ever met. He's like a sponge; he's not afraid to ask questions. He's a very honorable kid, way more mature than his age."
Luczak did not end up at Mississippi State by accident -- the school is part of his family legacy. Both of his parents, Tony and Nikki Luczak, graduated from State. His father is the director of golf at Mississippi State, overseeing the entire operation of the university's golf course. Tony Luczak, who got a degree in golf management, previously worked at Hiland Golf Club, Exit 17 Golf and Saratoga Spa State Park course.
"A lot of my family went through Mississippi State," Luczak said. "I had different offers (to play basketball), but I turned everything down. It took a leap of faith to come down here."
As a student, Luczak is in the fourth year of a five-year program, which is tough on its own before one factors in all of the extracurricular activities.
On top of playing basketball at Mississippi State, his duties with the Pre-Law Society and the Japan American Student Conference, he's also a student leader of the schools Model United Nations. He has taken six semesters of Mandarin Chinese - "If you dropped me in the middle of China, I could survive, at least," he said. He's also currently learning Japanese.
And he fits all of that around his class schedule and a regular basketball practice regimen.
"The basketball and class schedules are set, so I have to rotate everything else around that," Luczak said. "It's tough in the fall when you have two-a-days. We'll work out before class and go back in after class, so it feels like you live at the gym."
Waide gave him a corner of his office where he can work on everything he needs to do.
"I can stop by between classes and practice, get some things done, run out, run back," Luczak said. "The biggest problem is I don't have a car, so it really is running sometimes."
Taylor Luczak found his way to the Bulldogs' basketball team through sheer perseverance, something he is very good at.
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"I did track and field my first year down here ... but I discovered my love for basketball was still there," Luczak said.
The only way to do that was to walk on.
"It was one of those ‘Rudy' moments. You know, you go to the coaches' office 20 times to try to meet with the coaches," Luczak said. "Finally, I sat down with one of them, and he told the coach, ‘Yeah, the dude's 6-8, he's in shape, let's give him a chance.'"
Luczak knew the deal as a walk-on. This year, he saw five minutes of playing time for the Bulldogs, who finished 17-14 overall. He did not record a single point or rebound. In each of the last two seasons, he scored four points and grabbed three rebounds.
"You're not going to get playing time," he said. "Just love the guys in the locker room, being part of the team. There's always that competitive part that wants a chance, but it is what it is. I go out and do what I can in practice; I have no control over the coach's decisions."
While Jimmer Fredette was becoming the media darling of the season, Luczak's one moment on "ESPN SportsCenter" came over the holidays, when he was seen breaking up a fight between teammates Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey at the Maui Invitational.
"It would be one thing if he played, but he does all of the work and gets none of the glory," Waide said. "He works as hard as anyone, if not harder, and he finally gets on SportsCenter and he's breaking up a fight between teammates."
"At some point or other, teammates have words with each other or a scuffle breaks out, but most of the time it only happens in practice," Luczak said. "This time it happened in front of ESPN cameras between two guys I respect. I got in between them; I figured if they saw someone they knew, they might back down a little bit."
Luczak plans to play one more year as a walk-on. He has one year left of his five-year academic program, and basketball will be part of it.
"I know I'm not going to play in the NBA," he said with a chuckle. "My body's pretty much beat up, I'm ready to be done ... but I'll be able to say I played four years of basketball and one year of track at a Division I school. Not a lot of people can say that."
Proud of Jimmer
Luczak's season with the Bulldogs ended quietly, in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, weeks before his old high school teammate's.
However, he was able to go to New Orleans for Jimmer Fredette's final game, against Florida in the Sweet Sixteen.
"My brother and I scalped tickets," Luczak said. "We were able to sneak down to where the Fredettes were sitting. We were on the floor side until about five minutes left when the other people showed up..."
Luczak couldn't help but marvel at Fredette's achievements.
"I'm so proud of Jimmer and everything he's accomplished," Luczak said. "What he's done is absolutely amazing. Getting the Naismith Award, that was was well-deserved. He's worked hard his whole life ... he'll do well in the NBA wherever he goes; that's who he is, he'll put everything into it."
Luczak, meanwhile, is putting everything into his academic career. He carries a 3.7 GPA. Waide said Luczak is often asked to greet visiting dignitaries and show them around campus, including Colin Powell.
"What I think he'll do is get a Ph.D. in international relations," Waide said. "He's expressed a desire to go to law school, but I always tell him he's too smart to be a lawyer."
As for the Rhodes Scholarship, Luczak has to come up with a 500-word research proposal -- "which is tough; it's hard to say a lot in 500 words," Luczak said. The scholarship includes a year of study at Oxford in England.
"They're not looking just for academics," Luczak said. "They're looking for a Renaissance man -- very well-read and well-rounded. There's several interview processes; it takes about six months. It's going to be tough; if I don't get it, I could always do a Fulbright Scholarship.
"I'll have my head in a book all summer," Luczak added.