June 19, 2022
Texas A&M’s Joni Taylor balances life with gratitude for ‘holy complications’
Aggies head coach finding balance in her new roles.
Joni Taylor has experienced a tremendous amount of change the past few months.
Changing jobs, moving from Georgia to Texas, traveling, recruiting, speaking.
But through it all, one thing has remained consistent – her 4 a.m. wake-up time, every morning without fail.
“That’s when I have time to myself. Ideas come when I’m praying, working out, running,” she said. “That’s my time to breathe,” Taylor said.
One of her regular prayers during that time is asking the Lord to “Give me what I need for today.”
“That’s been my prayer this entire time because if I look at it in it’s totality, going on what I am thinking about the future, it can become a lot,” she said. “So I pray, Lord give me what I need for today. And He has and I know He will, so that’s how I’ve processed it all.”
“It” is the mountain of change, spectacular opportunities and “holy complications” that have showered down over her life the past few months.
Taylor, 43, was named the new head coach of the Texas A&M Lady Aggies this spring, replacing the legendary Gary Blair, who retired after 19 years. Less than two months later, the former head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs – and the 2021 SEC Coach of the Year – was named head coach of the 2022 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team.
Since March, she’s hit the ground running: juggling moving her family, traveling and speaking, attending meetings and practices, filling out her A&M coaching staff, going on a family vacation, making official visits and hosting recruiting weekends and coaching the USA U18 team.
Taylor handles it all and remains grounded through close ties with an “amazing group of friends, my husband, family, who are my circle and who speak life into me and pray over me,” Taylor said. She also credits a book she’s read multiple times called “The Circle Maker,” which advocates looking at challenges in life as blessings and “holy complications.”
“I always pull out the book when I am going through a huge transition. It talks about ‘holy complications.’ We complain about things complicating our life but then we ask for blessings, well they are complicated too.
“It’s about the perspective. There’s a lot going on and if you don’t have the right perspective, you can look at it the wrong way,” she said. “My prayer is Lord, complicate my life. If God is complicating my life that means I am receiving blessings.
“And with blessings come more responsibilities and complications, but they are holy complications that I am grateful for. I am having holy complications in my life now because of the blessings God has given me.”
A steady presence in her life is husband Darius, an assistant general manager with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.
“You could always tell she was prepared to do great things as a head coach,” Darius said, recalling them being friends and talking basketball before they got married. “Obviously getting to Georgia and taking on that program and coming behind a legend you knew would be a challenge, but it was something that God prepared her for because she handled it well. The people there loved her. She had those relationships and connections with her players.”
Darius Taylor said his wife’s commitment and dedication to her craft has helped her reach the heights she’s achieved. “Just seeing the time she put in from an x’s and o’s standpoint and the most important part, the leadership part, all the things she did, the books she read, the professional development, to put her in a position to be a great leader, has been wonderful.
“Her spirituality also has a lot to do with her success,” said Darius, who’s been an assistant coach at Temple and South Carolina as well as the Dream’s interim head coach. “She’s a very spiritual person and she’s very intentional with everything she does. From when she wakes up at 4 a.m. in the morning… to everything. It’s been fun watching her career continue to blossom, everyone has bumps in the road, but she’s been able to push through it.”
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Taylor took some time recently to talk with The Next about life on the run, preparing young players for the future, what she thinks is perfect happiness and more.
What are you most looking forward to as you take on the A&M program?
I think it is implanting our culture and how we do things and serving our young ladies and the community. Our job is to serve. It shows up in coaching but it’s to serve. That’s the vessel that we are, that’s our purpose. I am excited about figuring out ways to serve our young women on the floor, off the floor and give them what they need so when they leave Texas A&M – with a degree – hopefully lots of championships, they are also high-level thinkers and ready for the world whenever the ball stops bouncing. That’s what I am most excited about as well as really having some time to get into the community and meet everyone and serve them.
**How do you like being USA Coach?
It is humbling. Anytime you get a call from USA basketball to serve in any capacity, it is humbling because there are so many great coaches, they could pick up the phone and ask and so for them to ask me and be a part of it and be associated with it, I am humbled and grateful. It is a learning experience for me. The opportunity I have to work alongside (assistant USA coach) DeLisha Milton-Jones (Old Dominion) is great. And to be able to share this space with her and assistant coach, Terri Moren, she’s a good friend. To learn from her; and the young women who were selected to be on the team I count it all joy and now our mission is to go represent our country on and off the floor in a first-class manner and come back with a gold medal. It’s exciting, it’s a growth opportunity, and it’s a blessing.
What talent would you most like to have?
I cannot sing. My brother is gifted in that way but I love some good Karaoke so I would say singing because I love my gospel music. If I had a superhero talent, I would love to be able to read people’s mind. I feel I kind of do that now anyway, so I’d love to just go ahead and have that.
What is your most treasured possession?
It would probably be my grandmothers’ Bible. It’s marked-through, dog-eared… my granny’s Bible.
What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?
There are a lot of those. My greatest one so far: I could say two things; being a mother and then in totality, the process of seeing our young women come in as freshmen then seeing them walk out as seniors and the growth and the maturation that happens and knowing I had something to do with that.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I am very Type A. To the point where it can be annoying. I like things the way I like it, that’s the way I like things; This has to sit right here every single time and if it’s turned just a little bit, it’s off and that can be annoying for other people. I think it’s a blessing and a curse and it’s why I am so detailed and organized because I am that way but I also can understand how that can turn into a bit of being not delegating well.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be and why?
I think I would want to come back as an angel. I’m going between an angel or as the altar. Either way I want to be able to intercede for people and angels can do that and also if I came back as a thing, I would love to be an altar in a church because that is where you go for prayer. And so if I am the altar, I am hearing people’s prayers, I am there and I can intercede on their behalf.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I think chasing happiness is something we have to be careful of. Our understanding or the definition of it we have to be careful with because sometimes we think things make us happen, a certain amount of success makes us happy, and you can end up chasing the next thing. So my ideal picture of happiness especially with everything going on is sound mind, health and having a loving husband, family and friends who can just sit around and enjoy small moments and enjoy the little moments. Happiness must start within yourself. I don’t want any material thing or person to provide happiness for me.
What is your greatest fear?
Disappointing and letting people down. It is what drives me. My greatest fear is disappointing others, my parents, family, our young people that we are charged to lead; it is what drives me to do what I do because I never want to disappoint. It kills me if I’ve disappointed someone and it’s also why it’s hard for me to say no. My other fear that is crawling right up there to the top of the list in the world we live in is mental health. When we look in the news and see all the deaths that are happening by suicide, I fear for the mental health of our country, our young people, our young women, our young Black women and that is a fear that keeps me up at night that God forbid something happens on my watch.
What are your thoughts on the opportunities that have arisen for Black women coaches?
I think that we are making great strides but there is still room to grow. Very excited more Black women are getting opportunities because we deserve them and representation is important, especially when you look at the percentage of women who play basketball, the majority are minority, so I think it’s important that they have someone who looks like them. I remember growing up watching basketball, C. Vivian Stringer was the only Black person that I saw. She was it. And so I think now, there are more opportunities for women – look at what the SEC did, seven Black coaches two years ago then this year we have five – I think it tells people that Black women can do this. There are a lot of great coaches period but I am excited that we are getting some opportunities in our game.
**The USA team is poised to compete for its ninth consecutive FIBA WU18 gold medal at the 2022 FIBA U18 Women’s Americas Championship, after an 84-40 semifinal win over Brazil on Saturday
Dorothy J. Gentry is a freelance sports writer whose work can be found in The Next, SLAM, Sports Illustrated, Texas Metro News and more. She is an educator and avid reader.