Calais High School graduate Chris Taylor is the director of basketball operations for the G League's Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the minor-league affiliate of the NBA's Indiana Pacers. Credit: Contributed photo

The grind begins Saturday night for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, one of 26 teams in the NBA G League. It is filled with former collegiate basketball standouts one step removed from the world’s most prestigious level.

The Mad Ants, owned by the National Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers, play their season opener against the Long Island Nets in New York. Players are competing for team success and the eye of an NBA scout or other executive that might portend a call-up.

In the front offices of those teams, that grind has been under way for weeks. It began with preparations for the recent G League draft and now focuses on the players selected and the 50-game regular season.

It’s the world Calais native Chris Taylor, 28, gladly calls home as the Mad Ants’ new director of basketball operations.

“People think of the G League as a tremendous training ground for players to take the next step and go up to the NBA and play at the highest level, but on the front-office side it’s also a huge opportunity,” said Taylor, who has worked for the Pacers organization since 2012.

Taylor’s duties with the Mad Ants include player personnel, scouting, team travel, budgeting — background tasks required to help build a successful organization.

“My ultimate goal is to definitely be a general manager of an NBA team,” said the 2007 Calais High School graduate. “I’m just trying to take the strides that lead to that.”

Down East basketball fans shouldn’t be surprised by Taylor’s ambition.

“I’ve loved basketball since the moment I can remember,” said Taylor. “Definitely dad (Dr. George Taylor, a Calais optometrist) instilled that love in me and obviously growing up in Calais with the stronghold the sport has in the town I literally lived, breathed and slept basketball.”

Taylor was part of a high point in Calais basketball history, playing on undefeated Class C state championship basketball teams in 2006 and 2007 that won 44 consecutive games under coach Ed Leeman.

He played at Emerson College in Boston, but understood that any further career in basketball would not involve an on-court presence.

“I always wanted to stay involved in the game and definitely at the professional level,” he said.

Taylor’s time at Emerson led to summer jobs in corporate sponsorships and promotions with the NBA’s Boston Celtics. He spent his first year after graduation working for the the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics’ NBA G League affiliate in Portland.

“When I was with the Celtics during college I tried to introduce myself to as many people as could, and I noticed when the Pacers were in town that their head strength coach, Shawn Windle, was from Brunswick, Maine, and went to UMaine-Presque Isle.

“I took a chance that the biggest guy coming out on the court that night might be the strength and conditioning coach and Shawn and I struck up a friendship.”

Windle eventually gave Taylor the email address for Indiana’s executive vice president for basketball Peter Dinwiddie, and Taylor soon shared his interest in an NBA front-office career.

That led to a three-month internship with the Pacers that began just before the 2012 NBA draft. Taylor has been affiliated with the organization ever since, first as a basketball operations assistant and later as basketball operations coordinator.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get my start with them,” he said. “On and off the court they’ve taught me immeasurable lessons and from top to bottom everyone’s open to answering questions and talking about their own paths and how they got here.”

Among the people Taylor saw regularly during his five years in Indianapolis was Celtics Hall of Famer Larry Bird, the Pacers’ coach and president of basketball operations from 2013 until May 2017.

“Larry’s a quiet guy but he’s incredibly funny,” said Taylor. “That was one of the cool things, especially coming from New England. Everyone in my family’s a diehard Celtics fan.

“I remember the first time I came in and had the chance to shake Larry’s hand and hear him call me by my first name, it gave me chills.”

Taylor has been based in Fort Wayne since July 1, working under Mad Ants general manager Brian Levy. One of his first tasks was to join Levy in scouting players at the annual NBA Summer League tournament in Las Vegas.

“Things I’ve been learning about and been able to see my superiors and mentors deal with on a daily basis with the Pacers over the last few years, now I’m being thrown into those scenarios and that will definitely train me to hopefully succeed at the next level,” he said.

No matter where that next level leads, Taylor’s heart will never stray far from Calais.

He returns to the area every summer, in part to participate in his alma mater’s annual alumni basketball games held in conjunction with the annual International Festival.

Taylor also has organized the Blue Devil Fund, a nonprofit that takes money raised at the alumni games and distributes it to local charitable causes such as the WQDY radio turkey drive, Toys for Tots, and Bounce with the Blue Devils. The latter is an afterschool collaboration with the local Jobs for Maine’s Graduates chapter that sends high school basketball players to local elementary schools to work with the next generation of Calais standouts.

“Basketball has inspired a lot of love from a lot of kids in Calais over the years and we remember fondly those high school years when the entire community came out and supported us, cheering us whether we won or lost,” said Taylor.

“We’re just trying to continue to instill a love for the game that for me started back home and has never waned at all.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...