It was going into her freshman year of high school that Taylor Crystian knew she could pursue her dream of playing college basketball at the NCAA Division I level.
The Red Bank native began her journey on the hardwood when she was in fourth grade and by middle school she was playing competitively in travel basketball leagues.
Over the last four years, Crystian showcased her skills at the high school level, tallying almost 950 career points during stops at Mater Dei Preparatory School, Middletown, The Patrick School, Elizabeth, and Red Bank Regional High School, Little Silver.
All of her hard work and dedication came to fruition on April 15 when Crystian signed a national letter of intent to play for Fairleigh Dickinson University at the school’s Metropolitan Campus in Teaneck, Bergen County.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to play at the D-1 level and to continue to do something I love,” Crystian said. “I wanted to go somewhere my family could come to see me play. FDU has a great coaching staff and the players there are great. It was a perfect fit.”
Basketball is a big part of Crystian’s family. Her brother, Miles, recently completed his freshman year playing for the Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham team in Madison, Morris County.
Her parents, Simmee and Memone, have been with her every step of the way, helping her to become the best player she can be. Her father, Simmee, helps to train her as well.
While playing AAU basketball for the Central Jersey Hawks, Crystian was able to develop an all-around game from the coaching of Randy Westrol and Mary Beth Chambers-Bowler that helped her make an impact from the time she stepped onto the court at Mater Dei Prep.
During her two years as a member of the Seraphs, Crystian helped the squad put together consecutive 14-win seasons. As a sophomore, she led the team in assists and steals, and was the Seraphs’ No. 2 scorer.
Her performance caught the attention of Coach Brian Laux, who made it clear to Crystian that she was good enough to earn a Division I scholarship, she said.
After two years at Mater Dei Prep, Crystian accepted the challenge of transferring to The Patrick School, a parochial powerhouse in Union County. It was a move Crystian knew would help her take her game to the next level, even if it meant seeing less playing time.
It also made sense for her family since Miles was already attending the school.
Crystian played very well coming off the bench for the Celtics during the 2018-19 season.
Playing against the best competition in New Jersey and being coached by Damel Ling and Charles Hawley taught Crystian a lot about perseverance and to keep setting the bar higher for herself to accomplish more, she said.
“It was a great experience,” the young woman said. “The school was like a community. Everyone knew each other and it was a great program to be a part of.”
When The Patrick School shut down its girls basketball program, the final chapter of Crystian’s high school career came full circle when she chose to attend Red Bank Regional. She said she saw it as the perfect time to join a team she had always wanted to play for.
Crystian joined a Buccaneers squad that was coming off a 20-9 season and an appearance in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 state sectional tournament.
After being welcomed by her new teammates with open arms, Crystian helped the Bucs win the Shore Conference B North Division title and earn the No. 1 seed in the state sectional tournament.
She was the Bucs’ leading scorer with 369 points and earned second team All-Division honors and third team All-Group 3 honors.
“I learned so much about myself this year,” Crystian said. “I was able to contribute to the team and we did very well. It helped make me stronger.”
One of Crystian’s favorite memories during her year with the Bucs was playing Manchester Township High School in the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament on Feb. 22 at the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River. She scored 21 points as Red Bank came up just short of defeating the defending conference champions, losing to the Hawks, 64-61.
“Even though we lost, it was a fun experience playing in front of a big crowd in a tournament game,” Crystian said. “You had people in the crowd booing and cheering you. It was pretty cool to have the chance to play in that type of environment.”
Red Bank finished the 2019-20 season with a 21-7 record and reached the quarterfinals of the state sectional tournament.
Crystian is the first Red Bank girls basketball player to sign with an NCAA Division I school in 19 years. Off the court, she holds a 4.0 GPA and plans to study biology in college, with a goal to pursue a career in the medical field.
The high school story for Crystian ended with the goal she worked hard to achieve: a scholarship and a spot at a Division I program.
Crystian said she is thankful for everyone who has been a part of her journey; from her family, coaches and teammates, to her trainers Corey Bennett, Elijah Allen and Ellonya Green. She said there are a lot of people who have helped her get to where she is today.