The season was down to one shot. The chance to win a state title was condensed to five seconds. And there was Taylor Teeden waiting to make everything right.
Plant City tried every other manner of rescuing itself in a game on the verge of disaster. The Raiders made a furious rally, turning a nine-point deficit into a one-possession game in the final two minutes of regulation. They were out of options, at least ones that did not call for some desperation.
Needing to go the length of the court, Ayden Perez threw a deep inbounds pass to Parker Hancock-Eitenoir, who immediately handed the ball to Teeden.
After dribbling the ball enough to get within striking range, Teeden made sure he would not fail with the clock short and the scoreboard askew. The freshman heaved the ball, then watched as it bounced off the rim before falling through the net.
The Raiders erupted, pandemonium reigned, and at the end of the court a blur of orange jerseys danced.
Teeden became Mr. Clutch, hitting the game-winner as time expired to beat St. Cloud in the Unified Special Olympics state championship game.
“I was zoned in,” Teeden said. “It felt good when I took that last shot. It’s something I’ve practiced. I was frozen, just standing there waiting for it to go in. I just wanted to do my part to help the team.”
The Unified Sports program joins people with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics athletes) and without (Unified partners) who play together on the same team.
Teeden, the son of Plant City boys basketball Billy Teeden, wanted to be a partner to the Special Olympics athletes after watching them practice in the school’s gymnasium. Taylor shared sports stories. He built relationships. He became more compassionate.
Taylor already knew about overcoming obstacles in the sport. When Taylor was four years old, he was diagnosed with a bicuspid valve and enlarged aorta, a heart condition that has two flaps on the valve instead of the typical three. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born with the same valve defect and opted to have surgery years later.
Though Taylor never had an operation, his heart problems kept him from playing basketball on any school-related teams. Still, Taylor stayed active, serving as a coach for AAU and recreational programs. It was not until middle school when doctors cleared him to play.
As a freshman with the Raiders this past season, Taylor juggled his time with the junior varsity squad and the Unified Special Olympics team. His shooting touch helped Plant City advance to the championship game of the Unified tournament, held at Lakeland’s RP Funding Center the same week as the girls state tournament.
And when the game was tight, when a comeback was needed, Taylor’s coaching acumen came through.
“Those years of being on the bench as a coach paid off for Taylor, especially in the final five seconds,” Billy Teeden said. “That play, that shot, was executed perfectly, just as if he was a coach on the floor.”
Billy and his wife, Jeannette, were in the stands in Lakeland. They sat in disbelief after their son’s buzzer-beating shot.
“It was just an amazing moment,” Billy said.
Afterward, teammates hoisted Taylor on their shoulders, carrying him closer to the Raiders’ fans. Taylor held the trophy while everyone cheered.
“It was incredible to be a part of that team,” Taylor said. “I loved every minute of it.”
This season, Taylor will be playing for his father on Plant City’s varsity team. As a varsity basketball, Taylor will no longer be able to play for the Unified team, per Florida High School Athletic Association rules.
“I’ll still be at every practice trying to help out,” Taylor said. “I want to continue to be a role model for everyone on the team.”