Well-traveled player feels at home in Greenwood program

Jae Taft makes friends easily, adapts quickly to new environments and is unruffled by sudden change.

She is also a versatile guard who can fill any role in the backcourt — qualities that have served her well throughout a unique high school basketball career.

Taft is in her first year on the Greenwood Community High School girls team. But she is no varsity novice.

She’s a fourth-year varsity player who is playing for her fourth different team in as many years.

Yes, you read that correctly. She’s playing for her fourth different team in four years.

A 5-foot-3 guard, Taft has played for Union (Modoc), Center Grove, Indianapolis Homeschool and, now, Greenwood. She considers the latter home.

“It’s been a fun experience. I’ve definitely enjoyed Greenwood,” said Taft, a starting guard. “There’s a friendly feel about it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, getting to meet new people and experiencing another school.”

Meeting new people and experiencing new schools is nothing new for Taft.

Her odyssey began four years ago at Union High School, where father, Lee Taft, was the head coach. She played one season for her father, then transferred to Center Grove her sophomore year when the family relocated to Johnson County.

Lee operates an athletics consulting business and moved to be closer to the Indianapolis metropolitan area. He resigned his coaching position at Union after the move.

After one season at Center Grove, Jae — who played mostly junior varsity for the Trojans– decided she wanted to try homeschooling. Her younger sister, Bailee, wanted to do the same, and their parents agreed.

But Jae did not give up basketball.

She joined the Indianapolis Homeschool Wildcats, which plays and practices at the Gathering Place in Greenwood. She averaged nearly 20 points per game and scored more than 500 points for the Wildcats, one of the nation’s top homeschool programs in recent years.

Jae enjoyed playing for Homeschool and likely would have continued playing for the Wildcats had fate not intervened.

At the end of the 2014-15 season, long-time Greenwood high school girls coach Debbie Guckenberger stepped down after the same position at Brownsburg. Lee Taft, who had remained active as a travel team coach and was by that time well-connected to the community, was hired as Guckenberger’s replacement.

Not surprisingly, Jae — and Bailee, a freshman on the junior varsity team — wanted to play for dad.

So it was off to a new school to play for a new team with new teammates — a routine that was anything but new for Jae.

“It some areas it has been difficult getting used to different teammates, but as a whole it hasn’t been very difficult,” she said. “I’m definitely more of an open person. I like people. I like talking to people. I like getting to know people, so I think that’s helped me a lot because I’ve been open and putting myself out there for my teammates to get the chance to meet me and interact with them.

“It’s been really easy to adjust to different teams. Sometimes you don’t mesh with people, but for the most part, honestly, it’s been pretty easy going from school to school and different teams to different teams.”

Jae’s desire to play again for her dad has been mutually beneficial for herself and the Woodmen. She’s not only enjoying her final year of varsity basketball, she’s been instrumental in Greenwood’s 9-5 start.

Comfortable playing shooting guard or point guard, she was, going into Wednesday’s game at Greenfield-Central, Greenwood’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and is one of their top defenders.

She shoots 41 percent from the field, averages 2.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists and has made a team-high 23 3-pointers.

“She’s really turned into a strong shooter. She’s had multiple games where she’s hit three or four three-pointers, which helps us a lot,” Lee Taft said. “She can play point but she can also be your shooting guard if you need her to. She defends well and plays hard.

“She hustles. She plays hard on both ends.”

Jae’s blue collar approach, coupled with her willingness to play wherever asked, eased the transition with her new teammates. That, and the fact she already knew the Woodmen’s top player, senior Holly Hoopingarner, an IUPUI recruit whom Jae had met at basketball camps.

One of the area’s top players, Hoopingarner — a 5-4 guard — had per game averages of 23.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists before Wednesday’s game and is a four-year starter.

Hoopingarner and Taft have formed a formidable one-two backcourt punch.

“I knew Holly was the leader of the team. And I remember going up to her and being like, ‘Hey, I have your back. This is your team. I’m going to be there for you,’” Jae said. “It’s been great getting to work with her, but also with some of the other guards on the team.

“They definitely welcomed me with open arms. When my family came into Greenwood, they opened their arms and really accepted us, which was definitely a nice feeling.”

As evidenced by the fact her dad coaches and her younger sister also plays, Taft hails from a basketball family. One of her role models is former NBA player and National College Basketball Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette, who also happens to be her cousin. Lee Taft’s sister, Kay Fredette, is Jimmer’s mother.

A former Brigham Young star, Fredette was the NCAA Division I scoring leader in 2011. He currently plays for the Westchester Knicks of the NBA’s Developmental League.

Like her famous cousin, Taft will also continue her basketball career in college. She recently committed to Olivet Nazerene University, an NAIA Div. I school in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

But before she goes to Olivet, she has unfinished business with her fourth — and final — high school team.

Specifically, the objective is a lengthy state tournament run.

“I’m very confident that if we play the way we can, we can definitely accomplish our goals in the postseason,” Taft said. “I’m very confident.”

The Taft File

Name: Jae Taft

High school: Greenwood

Sport: Basketball

Year: Senior

Position: Guard

Height: 5-foot-3

Age: 18

College plans: Will continue her basketball career at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbannis, Illinois. She plans to major in communications

Personal: Parents are Lee and Jennifer Taft; has a younger sister, Bailee, who is a freshman on the junior varsity team; has a younger brother, Brennen, age 7

Author photo
Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rmorwick@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.