Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
When you’ve been playing the game for a long time, everything becomes second nature to you. Especially when the game is also in your blood. In the case of Taj Chiles, just like the video company’s name, ball is life.
The 5-foot-10 point guard has been the main ball handler at Bishop Loughlin High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn for the last two seasons, is a player that is smart and makes great decisions on the court. He eats, breathes and sleeps the game on the court and is a leader to his teammates on the court.
When asked what motivates him to be successful on the court, he replied, “To be honest, it’s just my family and the people that look up to me in my neighborhood. A lot of people in my neighborhood chose the wrong path, like drugs and being in the streets. But even when they see me all the time, I’m never like a fake person, they always show love to me and always tell me that I gotta be the one to make it, since they went the wrong route. And my family, whenever I go into the game, I think about them and how much they’re proud of me and how much they support me, I just want to make them proud every time I step out on the court.”
Chiles, a native of Harlem, spoke about growing up there. “It’s a tough environment, there’s a lot of distractions in Harlem,” said Chiles about where he lives, “A lot of people don’t see that, there’s not a lot of high-end apartments & stuff like that in Harlem, it’s either projects or small apartments and stuff like that, that people live in. There’s people that sometimes it’s hard for them to stay in the right route and be in school all the time, and stuff like that, so it’s a tough environment to live in and stay focused in, because a lot of people, they want you to come down the wrong route with them because they don’t really have much motivation.”
At a young age, he learned the game from his father, Tony Chiles, who is a former college basketball coach who coached at schools such as Manhattan, Fordham, St. John’s, Drexel, Iona and most recently, Tulane. He was also a good player in his own right, as he helped lead All Hallows High School to a CHSAA city championship and New York State Federation Tournament championship in 1984-85, his senior year. He also played four years at Columbia University, graduating in 1989, with a bachelor’s degree in political science and set a single-game record with assists in a game with 19 against the U.S. Marine Academy and the all-time assists record with 323 during his time there.
When asked about learning the game from his father, who stepped in as the interim coach at Bishop Loughlin this season, the younger Chiles replied, “At first, it was really tough, because I had to look at it as being in my dad’s footsteps, and that’s why I think this season, we’re playing so well, because I haven’t really looked at as I’m in my dad’s footsteps, I’m just being a basketball player, I’m playing as Taj, not playing as Tony Chiles’ son . But it’s a great luxury, ‘cause he knows a lot of people, I’ve seen a lot of places, I’ve been to a lot of college arenas, so it’s a great luxury, because not a lot of kids have that and I really appreciate it a lot.”
On the strengths and weaknesses in his game, he replied, “I think I have a very high IQ, I can see things before it’s happening, I’m a good passer, I like to get my teammates involved, I can shoot the ball very well, I can dribble the ball very well. I think some weaknesses in my game is sometimes I take tough shots, just cause that’s what I work on in the gym, and that’s not a good shot all the time, and I’ve got to get stronger, because college athletes, they’re in the gym all the time, lifting weights and stuff like that, so I’ve just got to get stronger.”
During his time at Bishop Loughlin, Chiles has been a part of some winning teams. As a junior, he alongside the Champagnie brothers, Justin (Pittsburgh) and Julian (St. John’s), helped lead the Lions to a 23-4 record and the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan championship and an appearance in the CHSAA “AA” city semifinals. This season, the Lions suffered through a dismal 6-21e season, but Chiles was one of many bright spots on a young squad. His senior year may have ended earlier than he expected, but he definitely made his mark.
When asked about his four years at Loughlin, he replied, “It’s been a great experience, playing [on the] freshman [team] my first year, and then on varsity since my sophomore year, it changed me as a basketball player. I feel like if I had ever went to a local school in my neighborhood, I wouldn’t have gotten to be the basketball player that I am, and [then] coaches really pushed me, they didn’t think I was just a small point guard. All of my coaches were my first believers, they were saying that I could be a Division I athlete, so they really pushed me a lot, they made sure I wasn’t settling, not just in the classroom, but in the classroom, too. I was in honors and AP classes, so they made sure I was giving my best effort, not just on the court, but off the court.”
On the subject of the team from his junior season, he replied, “It was a great season, we actually broke the record for wins in a season at our school, we also broke the record for most wins in a row, we started off 16-0, it was a phenomenal experience, every game that [we played in] we were having fun. We went undefeated for 16 games outside the state and inside the state, so it was a lot of fun.”
On playing with the Champagnie twins, both of whom are currently making noise in the ACC and the Big East, respectively, Chiles replied, “Playing with Justin & Julian, it was fun, Like those two, I text them all the time, we FaceTime each other every day, those were my teammates that I ever played with, just ‘cause, even though they were Division I athletes, they saw so much in me, they always told me that I had to step up, I had to be a better player, I always had to do this, I had to do that. They always thought that I could be the great point guard that I am now, so it was just a lot of fun playing with them.”
On his senior season, Chiles replied, “It’s been a struggle this season to finish games and win, but we had high hopes, but we weren’t getting blown out by teams, we lost a lot of close games, [by] seven, five, three-point games, two-point games, so we’ve got a lot of faith in each other and stuff like that. But it’s just been a rough season keeping our head focused, especially since Coach Gonzalez going down, Coach Vic [Monaros] being out sometimes, and players getting injured, we had a couple players get injured, so it was a really a rough season, but we started to come together during the playoffs.”
As far as his collegiate recruitment, Chiles has heard feedback from Wagner and Howard. On possibly playing college basketball, he replied, “Feedback from college coaches and scouts and stuff like that, they said that I could be a Division II player if I wanted to, but the way I’ve worked on my game and how much better I’ve gotten, I can play Division I basketball. I just have to keep my head straight, and just let the coaches see what I can do, and if I see a coach, just keep playing my game like I’ve been playing this season.”
On where he sees Bishop Loughlin’s basketball program moving down the line after he graduates, he replied, “I think Loughlin will always be a big program, just ‘cause of the family attitude that they have. My whole team loves each other, you have people that come to the school, and they want to be the man, like everybody knows their role, they come into the school knowing what’s going on already. And the coaching staff, we have, I feel like, the best coaching staff in the whole city, like no matter what’s going on, wins & losses, they teach us lessons, instead of just making us basketball players. Life is more than basketball, like our coaches always say like, ‘You’re going to be a non-basketball player much longer than you’ll be a basketball player.’ They teach you about life more than just being a basketball player, so that helps us on the court.”
The young Lions lost in the second round of the CHSAA “AA” playoffs earlier this month to Iona Prep, but despite the losses, it was a season of togetherness for the squad. As for Chiles, all that he has left to look forward to is graduation on June 6th, and then college afterwards. Due to all the mentorship that he has received from his family and coaches, there’s no reason why Taj Chiles won’t be a success story, whether it’s on the court or in life. Wherever he goes, he will know that being successful is the only option.