High school teammates play Bruins basketball together

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High school teammates play Bruins basketball together

Bruins teammates are long-time high school friends. Photo: Amanda Ross

One was an established varsity player known for his full-court play and quickness. The other was a new kid — an incoming freshman from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., with a coconut haircut and a whole lot of talent. It didn’t take long for the two to become fast friends, brothers both on and off the court.

Junior Darnel Antoine and sophomore Larry Taylor first met in 2007 when Darnel, a 10th-grader from North Port High School, in North Port, Fla., competed against Larry, an 8th-grader on IMG Academy’s squad. Larry, otherwise referred to as “that kid from IMG,” had preceded himself with his reputation. “We played against him,” Antoine said, “and he stood out. He played pretty well against us.”

Antoine had already made his first impression on Taylor, since the young middle-schooler would come and watch him and North Port play. “I honestly thought he was a football player when I first got there, and I was kind of shocked when I found out he wasn’t,” Taylor said. Antoine and a “young-looking” Taylor (according to Antoine), with their similar playing styles, quickly became friends and shared many good times in high school.

Among them was an especially memorable occasion when Antoine’s car was towed at Busch Gardens. Taylor and Antoine were visiting the amusement park in Tampa, and Antoine had parked his car at a CVS nearby. “That’s what everybody else was doing,” Antoine said. They walked four miles back to the parking lot later that night, only to find an empty space where their car had been. They had to walk the four miles back to Busch Gardens, find a missing friend, and wait for Antoine’s cousin to get off work — at 4:00 a.m.

Antoine accepted Christ when he was 11 years old at Lighthouse Baptist Camp, but he said he really began to grow once he met the Taylor family in high school. Coach Taylor, as Larry’s father was often called in the community, had started a church and welcomed Antoine to the meetings, which were often held in a park or at a member’s house. Following his high school graduation in 2010, Antoine attended Florida A&M as well as community college, and he had planned to enlist in the military following his first year at college. That’s when Bob Jones University showed up on his radar.

Knowing the Bruins would need players, Taylor messaged Coach Andrew Wingreen when he heard that BJU would be starting a basketball program. “I called Antoine kind of a ‘diamond in the rough,’ because he was a good player, but not a lot of people knew about him,” Taylor said. “I remember sitting in the living room of a friend’s house with him while he was filling out the application online.”

Taylor took his abilities on to Liberty University following high school, playing an important role on their NCAA National Tournament basketball team. But after a season at Liberty, Taylor had his doubts. “Ever since my senior year [of high school] I remember battling with whether I should go to Liberty or go somewhere where I’d be held more accountable,” he said. “After a year there, I had no peace about the decisions I was making, and I knew I needed to make a decision where my relationship [with Christ] would grow. I kept praying, and for some reason I just kept feeling like Bob Jones University was His will.”

The path leading Antoine and Taylor into each other’s lives and later on to BJU was nothing less than providential. Taylor had met the parents of Northland International University’s head basketball coach, Peter Wehry, in his father’s church in Florida. Coach Wehry introduced Taylor to Coach Wingreen, who became a spiritual role model to Taylor. When Coach Wingreen came to the Bruins, the pieces were in place for the two friends from North Port High to come to Greenville, as foreign as BJU was to them. “I didn’t even know what Bob Jones University was,” Antoine said.

Both Taylor and Antoine are looking to use their skills and talents to reach others, an inspiration drawn largely from Coach Taylor. Taylor’s father would often take Antoine and his friends to church, he would train neighborhood kids in basketball, and he was always looking for people who needed Jesus. “My father is a soul-winner, and I really respect that about him,” Taylor said. “He is always trying to lead kids to the Lord.” Taylor will be working in the Boys and Girls Club in his hometown next summer as he tries to use his love of basketball to reach kids, and Antoine is looking to pursue athletic training, if not a professional stint overseas.

Wherever God leads Antoine and Taylor next, one thing is clear: that He has a plan and won’t lead them astray.

This much has been openly evident in these players’ lives, and the God who brought a military-bound basketball player and a standout guard from Liberty University to BJU is certainly dictating wonderful plans for the future.