Talor Battle was just a toddler growing up in Albany, N.Y., when he sat with his mother, Denise Murphy, and watched her favorite team, the Steelers, play the Oilers in the NFL playoffs on New Year's Eve 1989. During the broadcast, an NBC announcer mentioned that quarterback Bubby Brister had given his mother a black-and-gold Cadillac for Christmas. "Talor had been a huge baby, about 11 pounds [at birth]," Murphy recalls, "and I said, 'This is my Bubby. He's going to grow up and buy me a black-and-gold BMW.'" Brister led the Steelers to an upset victory, and he left Talor with a nickname that has stuck.
Bubby Battle grew up to become a 5'11" point guard for Penn State, and last week in Colorado Springs he earned a spot on the USA Basketball roster for the World University Games in Serbia beginning on July 2. It was the perfect coda to a sophomore season in which he put himself and the Nittany Lions on the national radar.
"How many game-winners did Bubby have last season?" Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, a spectator at the trials, asked his assistant Kurt Kanaskie, who proceeded to catalog Battle's big shots: a go-ahead three with 2:14 left against Iowa on Jan. 24; a banked-in runner with 0.3 of a second left to beat Illinois on March 5; and a game-tying three at the end of regulation against George Mason in the NIT on March 17, followed by eight straight points in the overtime victory that launched the Lions' title run.
Battle was named first-team All--Big Ten after averaging 16.7 points and 5.0 assists, but the season might have been even more satisfying if not for a scare he got on Feb. 6. Penn State had lost at Michigan the night before. At 5:30 a.m. Battle received a call from an Albany hospital: Murphy had been admitted with what doctors thought was a heart attack. Kanaskie picked up Battle and made the five-hour drive to Albany with him. Murphy's condition stabilized, and Battle spent the night with his six younger siblings before heading back to campus. But in his next two games—losses to Wisconsin and Purdue—it was clear, Battle says, "that my head was messed up." He averaged five points, shooting 0 for 10 from three-point range. Those two losses helped keep the Nittany Lions, who finished the regular season 22--11, from earning their first NCAA tournament bid since 2001.
The NIT title was a nice consolation, and after the final win, over Baylor at Madison Square Garden, Murphy approached another of her Steelers heroes, Penn State alum Franco Harris, in the stands. "Why didn't you nickname him Franco?" Harris asked when Murphy told him her son's nickname. She says she no longer wants the BMW; Talor's presenting her with his all-tournament team trophy that night made her happy enough.
Later, Battle's 17-year-old half brother, Taran Buie, a highly rated junior guard, climbed onto the team bus and committed to play for Penn State in 2010--11. Battle will be a senior then, and he relishes the thought of playing alongside his sibling. "[Taran]'s my best friend," he says. "That's about more than basketball. That's family."
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