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Dick Harmon: Former BYU basketball star Alan Taylor dies after long battle with diabetes

Published: Monday, April 21 2014 5:49 p.m. MDT

PROVO — There was a time when Alan Taylor was one of the most powerful rebounders to ever play basketball at BYU.

This Saturday he will be put to rest following funeral services in Reno, Nev., after a long battle with diabetes. Taylor died Monday, April 14 and is survived by five children. He was 55.

The 6-foot-10 star spent the last few years of his life living in Reno and Utah.

Taylor and senior guard Scott Runia led BYU to the first WAC championship coached by Frank Arnold in 1979. Their team, which included underclassmen Danny Ainge and Devin Durrant, played and lost to the University of San Francisco and star Bill Cartwright.

Arnold remembers recruiting Taylor out of Kennedy High in Granada Hills, Calif. He was the CIF 3A Player of the Year in the City of Los Angeles, a powerful rebounder and scorer.

“I recruited Alan and guard Mike May and both were not LDS. Both of them worried that they’d have to be baptized in order to come to BYU," said Arnold. "I assured both that that wouldn’t be the case. Later, both ended up baptized. Taylor later served as an LDS bishop in Reno.”

Arnold said Taylor was very strong. “He might still be one of the all-time leading rebounders at BYU. He put up some great numbers and had some great games.”

“He was a great teammate and friend,” said Runia. “It hurts to see a teammate as young as Alan die at an early age. He was a good friend and as a player, he was also kind of my protector. I remember one game he came up to me and said, ‘Did you see that? That guy just gave you a cheap shot. I got a foul to give, I’ll get him for you.’’’

As a freshman, Taylor played in 24 of 27 games, backing up Mark Handy and Jay Cheesman. Twice he led BYU in scoring and rebounding that season, his best game 21 points and 10 boards against Arizona in Tucson.

On Monday, Arnold was washing his car when I called him for a comment on Taylor. He hadn’t received word of his death.

“I had a long conversation with Alan sometime in the last year. We were talking about employment, and since I was out of coaching, we discussed some ideas for him to pursue.”

The son of an L.A. fireman, Taylor was a great competitor, according to Arnold. “He was a great guy. I loved that guy. It breaks my heart. That’s tough. He was still a young man.”

Runia is scheduled to speak at Taylor’s funeral, which will be Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in the LDS chapel located at 4751 Neil Road, Reno, Nev.

As a sophomore at BYU, Taylor led the WAC in field goal percentage (170 of 301) at .565 percent. His best game that year — 25 points and 12 rebounds — came against Cal State Fullerton in the Cougar Classic.

As a senior, he set a Marriott Center record with 23 rebounds in his final home game. That final year, he averaged 10.9 rebounds and 12.5 points per game. He was named All-WAC for his efforts.

The Taylor years were a bridge for BYU basketball, a time when Arnold recruited Taylor and set the foundation for one of the best teams the school ever put on the court. It was a team that made the Elite Eight thanks to that dramatic Ainge dribble against Notre Dame before bowing out against Ralph Sampson and Virginia in 1981.

Taylor was a quiet man matched with extraordinary physical size and strength. Runia kept in contact with Taylor following their experiences at BYU, meeting with their wives in Europe when they both played professional ball. Then there were years they hardly spoke.

In the past two years, however, Runia, ever the assist man, stayed in contact with his former teammate extensively as his health deteriorated. But even Runia underestimated how quickly life left his friend.

Almost a year after burying his own son, Runia is experiencing another untimely loss all over again.

“It’s a sad and hard thing, to die this young,” said the former Cougar guard.

Yes, indeed.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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