After playing off the ball at Oregon for three seasons, Taylor Chavez is excited to be a lead guard for the Arizona Wildcats.
That was one of two driving factors in her decision to transfer to the UA. The other is so she can be closer to home and her ailing grandmother, who went into cardiac arrest in January.
“Over the past three months, really up until even now, it’s just a rollercoaster ride with her health,” said Chavez, a Surprise native. “She’s been in and out of the ICU...so it’s just been a roller coaster, and as of right now she looks good. I got here for the first time in person on Saturday since I saw her on Christmas Day. ... That was amazing and it’s gonna be a long process for her for recovery, probably a year or two, so I want to be around to help. I’m only about an hour and a half drive from her.”
Other than her mother, Chavez said her grandmother is who raised her the most. Chavez’s mother is a teacher and her father worked late, so her grandmother picked her up from school and babysat her.
When Chavez was leading Valley Vista High School to multiple state championships, her grandmother was her No. 1 fan.
“I remember at every single high school game she was sitting in the same spot, so she’s extremely important to me and we’re extremely close,” said Chavez, a one-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year. “Even when I got to Oregon, me and her talked once or twice a week just to catch up. I know that she’s not necessarily say living through me, but I know I have a lot of opportunities right now, a lot of excitement in my life, so I would like to make sure she feels a part of it and fill her in on everything.”
Chavez will have two years of eligibility at her new school and expects to be cleared to play immediately because of her family situation. She’s excited to help Arizona replace All-American point guard Aari McDonald, though she knows that’s a tall task.
“Aari’s a generational player, what she did is not going to be duplicated, but I feel like my style of play is completely different,” Chavez said. “I feel like I’ll still be able to find a way to really sit in at that guard position. Not as much of a prolific scorer, but I’m excited because I feel like I’m a solid ball-handler, can create for others, and I plan on knocking down a lot of shots down there.”
Chavez can shoot it with the best of them. She knocked down 41 percent of her 3-pointers at Oregon. And while her role mostly required her to be a spot-up shooter, she’s been working hard to become a more well-rounded player.
“Over the past year, year and a half, I’ve worked a lot on shooting off the dribble, pull-ups, floaters that sort of thing,” she said. “I feel like that’s something I’ve really improved on and I plan to improve on that even more, make another jump in that this summer.”
As a sophomore in 2019-20, Chavez shot 47 percent from 3 and averaged 6.5 points per game, the highest marks of her career. Her production dipped as a junior, what she attributes to a system change and the overall strangeness of the season.
Chavez missed multiple games at different points of the season because of her grandma’s health and COVID-19 protocols. She felt homesick for the first time in her college career.
“COVID made everything 10 times more difficult,” she said. “Unfortunately it sucked the fun out of a lot of it because there’s so much that is fun about being a college athlete and the relationship part, whether it’s the fans or with others or socially.”
Chavez committed to Arizona just days after entering the transfer portal. Head coach Adia Barnes recruited Chavez out of high school, so they already had an existing relationship. It quickly became clear that they were a match.
“One thing that she said is she’s really excited about my game for is my versatility on offense as a guard,” Chavez said. “I do a little bit of everything and that’s one thing I’m most excited about as I come to U of A: I’ll have more opportunity as a ball handler.”
Chavez also likes that Barnes is a player’s coach.
“You could just tell that by the attentiveness and responsiveness from her team in high pressure situations that require a lot of poise,” Chavez said. “As I watched the games in the NCAA Tournament, that was something that was really attractive to me. And she’s super personable and is really a relationship-focused coach, and coaches like that are easy to play for.”
Chavez believes she fits well in Arizona’s aggressive defensive scheme. At Oregon, she often guarded the other team’s best perimeter player. In high school, she played for a coach whose practices consisted almost exclusively of defensive drills.
Before Chavez joins the Wildcats in July, she plans to watch some of their old games so she can get a better feel for what she’s in for.
“Within my life I’ve worked so much on defense, especially full-court defense, and yeah I’m excited,” she said. “I feel like I’m a longer guard, I feel like I’ll be able to really contribute on the on-ball defense and just reading plays, reading passing lanes, that sort of thing.”
Chavez’s familiarity with the Pac-12 should only smoothen her transition. She already knows the conference’s teams and their styles of play.
She’s also pretty familiar with Tucson—her uncle lives there and her mom grew up there—and she’s played in McKale Center multiple times, including a memorable matchup during the 2019-20 season.
The Ducks, ranked No. 2 in the country at the time, staved off No. 18 Arizona 71-64 in front of almost 8,000 red-clad UA fans. Chavez hit a 3-pointer and had three steals that day.
“I remember how loud it was,” she said. “You could barely hear anything on the court and they’re rowdy. They’re really great supporters of their players and athletes and that’s something I’m super excited to be a part of. ... I’m going to have so many familiar faces at all my games.”
Chavez is looking forward to returning to Matthew Knight Arena, too. She is leaving the Ducks with many fond memories, like reaching the Final Four as a freshman and how unstoppable they felt during the 2019-20 season before it was abruptly cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I left a lot of my best friends in Oregon and knowing that I’ll be able to see them a couple of times a year is really exciting,” Chavez said. “It’ll be fun. Of course, there’s a little bit of a chip on my shoulder.”
Yes, Chavez knows her decision to join a Pac-12 rival has raised some eyebrows. But she’s fully committed to Arizona and wants UA fans to know that “I’m gonna leave everything I can into that program and I’m gonna try to make sure I leave it in a better place.”
And she hopes a certain someone is there to witness it.
“That’s been one of the main motivators I mention to my grandma when we’re doing the rehab together,” Chavez said. “(I’ll say), ’I want you to be able to come to all my games in Tucson, we’re gonna make it happen.’ And then she gets rejuvenated when she hears that.”