Celeste Taylor had opportunities to continue her basketball career at some of the best Division I programs in the country. Stanford, Ohio State and Notre Dame were just a few of the big names that put offers on the table. But when it came time to make a decision about her future, Taylor chose to play ball at Texas.
“When I took my visit (to Texas), I just fell in love with it,” Taylor said. “I was like ‘OK, this is where I need to be.”
Now in Austin, Taylor is still adjusting to a new culture. The guard from Valley Stream, New York says the food and the music are different down in Texas, and she fears that people will stereotype her as a “rude New Yorker.” But Taylor is still happy to be a Longhorn — even if that means being far away from home.
“I’m such a homebody, and I love being with my family, so that’s probably the biggest change for me,” Taylor said. “But other than that, I love it here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Texas head coach Karen Aston is glad Taylor made her home in Austin, too. After interacting with the star player during recruitment, Aston was sold.
“I’m thrilled for Celeste to be here,” Aston said. “I love what Celeste is all about, and I think that her demeanor, her personality, her drive, her character … kind of transcends what you want a Texas basketball player to be about. She’s a perfect fit.”
There’s much excitement surrounding Taylor’s future at Texas. With key seniors — Olamide Aborowa, Jatarie White and Danni Williams — from last season now graduated, the McDonald’s All-American has the opportunity to help fill the void that was left behind. Aston, who describes Taylor as an “impact player,” believes the New York native will be involved early, making up for these absences.
“(Taylor) is one of those players that is just always around the basketball.” Aston said. “It’s not hard to get (those types of players) involved because they get themselves involved.”
According to Aston, Taylor’s effort and attitude are “contagious,” so the coach is confident about the positive impact the freshman will have on the program despite her youth.
Helping elevate a team of people could be daunting for any player, especially a young one. But Taylor is up for the challenge.
“I’ve worked for this, I’ve put in the work, I’ve dedicated hours of tears, the blood, the sweat, all of that,” Taylor said. “Whatever is given to me, I’m going to take it, and I’m going to work my hardest and do what I can do, especially for this university.”
Taking the lead at Texas as a young player wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for Taylor. As a seventh grader, she played on her local high school’s varsity basketball team — and she was the leading scorer.
By eighth grade, Taylor transferred to Long Island Lutheran out of a desire to play with DI-level talent. Taylor didn’t become a consistent starter until her freshman year, but even with less playing time the year prior, competing against older girls committed to the sport was a growing experience.
“Obviously, playing against older girls is (a) different physicality,” Taylor said. “But LuHi was just a different atmosphere compared to the public school I went to previously.”
It was around this time that LuHi’s women’s basketball coach Rich Slater, who worked with Taylor for five years, recognized her immense talent.
“God gave her the athleticism, and God gave her the DNA to be great,” Slater said. “She’s going to be a pro.”
Competing for Team USA has also contributed to Taylor’s development as a player. As a member of three gold-medal winning USA FIBA World Cup teams, Taylor has performed on a world stage.
In 2017, she started every contest on a USA team that went 5–0 at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The next year, Taylor averaged 6.1 points per game and 4.1 rebounds on the U17 team that went 7–0 in Belarus. Having had the opportunity to travel the world and win with a high-caliber team is something for which Taylor is grateful.
“Every year with USA basketball is a new experience,” Taylor said. “You learn new things, a new culture. So I just think that just being privileged enough to be on the team, just being able to experience things like that definitely grows me as a person and also throughout my game.”
But now, after winning her most recent medal with Team USA’s FIBA U19 World Cup team this past summer in Tokyo and Thailand, Taylor is focusing her energy on winning big at Texas.
“I definitely want to win an NCAA championship,” Taylor said. “But we have to get a Big 12 Championship first.”
With goals as lofty as these, Taylor is all in for Texas, and the feeling is mutual.