Shakopee guard Taylor Koenen (11) controlled the ball against Minnetonka Friday. ] (AARON LAVINSKY/STAR TRIBUNE) firstname.lastname@example.org Minnetonka played Shakopee in the Class 4A, Section 2 girls' basketball final on Friday, March 11, 2016 at H
As long as she can remember, basketball has been the fulcrum around which Taylor Koenen’s life has swung. It’s a family passion, from one-on-one games in the driveway to traveling the country with her AAU teams to being the centerpiece for a Shakopee team that advanced to the Class 4A semifinals in 2015 and spent time ranked No. 1 in 4A this year.
The passion extends as far south as Iowa, her father’s home state, with a family affinity for Iowa and Iowa State. So when it came time for the 6-foot-2 do-it-all guard to make her college choice, she followed her heart and committed to … North Carolina.
“We’ve always loved the Hawkeyes and Iowa State,” Koenen said, “but my dad has always loved North Carolina, too. He grew up loving Michael Jordan, and he’s always wearing Carolina baby blue. It rubbed off on me. Michael Jordan is my favorite player.”
That likely happened during one of many driveway sessions with her father, Doug. Koenen credits her development to that father/daughter time.
“I always played up a year [in youth basketball],” she said. “I was short, so I developed really good guard skills, which help me now. My dad and I always shot baskets together, and that’s kind of how it started.”
The 2016 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year committed to North Carolina last fall, a dream not only for her but for Doug, too.
Minnesota offered but Koenen said by that time “I was pretty far a long in the process.”
Not that it would have mattered. After her first official visit to Chapel Hill, she had Carolina on her mind.
“We’d look at other schools but she’d always go, ‘No, I still think it’s North Carolina,’ ” said her mother, Kelli. “Once she went there, she was hooked.”
“It’s always been the dream school of mine,” Koenen said. “When coach [Sylvia] Hatchell offered me that scholarship, I remember by eyes were so big. She said ‘I’d love for you to be a Tar Heel,’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Her name is listed next to just about every important milestone in the Shakopee record book. In January, she became the first player in school history, boys or girls, to top 2,000 career points (she has 2,364). Among her other team records are career three-pointers (226), rebounds (more than 900), assists, steals and blocked shots. She led the Sabers to the semifinals of the Class 4A state tournament in 2015 and, this year, to their first South Suburban Conference title.
Not everything went her way, however. Shakopee lost in the Section 2, 4A championship game to Minnetonka 61-57. “That was a tough one,” she said.
While she’s eager to start the next stage of her basketball life, Koenen is proud of the legacy she’s made. She became the most heralded player at Shakopee this year, no small feat considering that Steffon Mitchell, a two-time Star Tribune All-Metro selection, is also graduating this year.
“To have a coach [Juan Mitchell] that believed in me and brought me up not only to play on the varsity but to start as an eighth-grader, that’s unheard of,” Koenen said. “They’re all memories I’ll cherish forever.”
Jim Paulsen • 612-673-7737