Besides being known as the best women's basketball player of all time, Cheryl Miller is known for scoring 105 points in a high school game in California in 1981. Lisa Leslie could have broken Miller's record in 1990 had the other team not voted to walk out and forfeit after she scored 101 points in an orchestrated half in another California high school game. Legend has it that former Villanova guard Corey Fisher scored more than 100 points in a summer league game in New York City in 2010, and in interviews he spoke about it like a man who had walked out of a dream, but there was no box score and no video. The number 100 has something about it, some kind of mystical weight. It always will, and someone else will always want to get it.
Jack Taylor drives five hours from Wisconsin to see his son play in Galesburg, Ill., at the end of November. It costs nothing to get in to see the game, and Jack sits three rows in back of the Grinnell bench. Two older women a couple of rows behind him are waving a small sign with the number 139 and an exclamation mark.
Four years ago, Little Jack dreamed of playing Division I basketball, so he went to Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy after he graduated from Black River Falls High, where he was named the Coulee Conference player of the year. He had his eyes set on playing for Columbia, and he had drawn interest. But he tore his left ACL early in that postgraduate season, and he went back to the farm, deeply depressed. He started reading the Bible more and became a dedicated Christian. His mother did some research with the help of her sister Darla in California and called the team doctor of the Packers, who performed surgery on Jack. While he was rehabbing his leg he enrolled at Wisconsin--La Crosse. He and his father worked on an old car, a 1967 Mustang that Jack's dad had bought him on eBay. They stripped the paint and replaced the back quarter panels, replaced the engine and the rusted fenders, and painted the car a color called Raven Black. After two years at La Crosse, Jack didn't feel it was the right fit, and he transferred to Grinnell.
Jack's parents met at a Chuck E. Cheese's in San Diego. His dad works a bulldozer during the summers, making roads up near Milwaukee. He has a big, thick mustache. On this night in November he watches Little Jack on the court, going through warmup routines. During the game the elder Jack claps, twice. He is not a man of many words, and mostly he just stares ahead at the court as his son finishes with 18 points. "Yeah, Jack and his sister once showed calves at the Jackson County Fair, and both won first place," their father says. And, "One time I showed him how to butcher a cow." When Little Jack was in grade school, his father made him memorize the periodic table. His father once told him he honestly didn't think he would turn out to be that great a basketball player, because he figured the boy would move on to something else. The elder Jack knew nothing about basketball, though. After the 138-point game, he and Lulu made the long drive back to Wisconsin, through the night, and they were getting so many calls and texts that the phone died and they had to stop at 4 a.m. to buy a charger. When they got home they unplugged their landline.
There actually was some magic on the night Jack Taylor scored 138 points, but it took a long time for it to happen. It came near the end of a game that felt sloppier and slower than usual for Grinnell. After the Pioneers had essentially stopped playing defense, after Jack had long passed 100, after Faith Baptist's David Larson had started to put up ridiculous numbers himself, getting cheers from the Grinnell crowd on open layups on his way to 70, Jack hit a three-pointer to give him 118, and then he hit another to give him 121. Two in a row.
He had started to feed off the energy in the small gym during the second half, the palpable buzz; fans had their phones out, filming him, and at various points they chanted his name. People asked him how tired his arms were afterward, but they really weren't; it was his legs that were crumpling beneath him. They were so cramped that he just sat down at halftime and didn't participate in the layup line. During timeouts he put a towel in his hands and held it over his face and faded away. He couldn't even hear a word his coach was saying.
Jack got 124 and 127 on two long threes, his third and fourth in a row, and one of the Grinnell announcers shouted, "This is madness!" Something was really starting to happen, and it had nothing to do with gimmickry. Jack Taylor was in the zone. He had been in the zone in a gym by himself before, but never so much in a game. He hit his fifth and sixth threes in a row, NBA threes, 130 and 133 points.
"I was going to take him out," Dave Arsenault says. "Then he hit a three. And I thought, Let's see how this goes. He hits another three. I'm not going to take him out. By the end of this 2½-minute stretch he bagged all those threes in a row. Players are circling our bench and [there's] mass chaos in the gym. Just to see someone hit threes on seven straight possessions? We're not going to see that again."
Griffin Lentsch, who last year scored 89 for Grinnell, then the Division III record, was waiting on the bench for the whistle that wouldn't come so he could go in and replace Jack. As the threes fell, Griffin began to jump around like a child, he was so excited, and when he got put in with 1:33 left, he ran out and hugged his teammate.
Jack got a burst of energy every time he touched the ball. No matter what the defenders did, they just weren't there. Faith Baptist was double- and triple-teaming him. He was calm. He was apart from himself, and the numbers. But he knew what he wanted. He wanted to score. Everything felt very slow, and he began not to worry about making or missing. He just wanted to shoot, and deal with the numbers later.