Coach Joni Taylor urges students to set aside fear of the unknown

Georgia women’s basketball coach speaks to Terry Women’s Initiative students and faculty

Merritt Melancon

Coach Joni Taylor speaks to the Terry Women's Initiative students.
UGA women's basketball coach Joni Taylor

Whether on the court, in a classroom or at a workplace, you have the choice to be legendary.

That is the message Georgia women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor shares with her players daily, and it’s the message she brought to the Terry College of Business September 29 as part of the Terry Women’s Initiative Faculty and Student Luncheon.

“Everybody can become legendary,” Taylor said. “When you hear the word legendary being thrown around, what comes to mind are ‘the greats.’ But everybody can be great in their own space. In our recruiting process, we talk to our players about making their stamp, about leaving Georgia better than you found it. And that’s what you guys need to do.”

Taylor came to UGA as an assistant coach in 2011, and became head coach in 2015, making her only the second head coach in the history of UGA’s Women’s Basketball program. In 2021, Taylor was named SEC Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith National Coach of the Year award.

In addition to working with student-athletes, Taylor works within the Athens community, creating the award-winning Beyond Basketball — a meeting place for women in Athens to network, discuss issues and promote community development. She also spends a lot of time off-season sharing the lessons she’s learned during her two decades of coaching. 

In her remarks, Taylor traced her path from aspiring high school counselor playing collegiate basketball at the University of Alabama to her career detour into coaching women’s basketball. She spoke about balancing the professional demands of being the head coach of a nationally ranked Southeastern Conference basketball program while raising two kids under the age of five.

No matter if you’re in the corporate world or the sports world, she said, your career will not unfold exactly how you plan it. She advised students in the audience to develop strong self-awareness, always bring your best to whatever you’re doing and stay open to new challenges. You never know when or where an unexpected opportunity will tap you on the shoulder, like when she accepted her first assistant coaching job at Troy University.

“I didn’t think I was qualified. I didn’t think I was ready,” Taylor said. “To be honest, I was scared.

“Fear is that feeling in your stomach when you get asked to take on a great opportunity, and you think, ‘I just don’t know.’ That feeling for me, I have learned to run towards it. And I have never regretted it — ever.” 

Taylor will kick off her seventh season with the Lady Bulldogs basketball team in November.