Jackson grad Mikesell adjusts to move to Oregon

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Oregon’s Taylor Mikesell, center, shots against Oregon State during the second half.

EUGENE, ORE. More than halfway through her first year as a student at the University of Oregon, former Jackson star Taylor Mikesell hasn't sat in a single classroom or done most any normal college activity on campus.

After transferring from the University of Maryland over the summer, she made the move across the country once she got the all-clear to head to the Pacific Northwest in early July. However, all of UO's academic quarters are solely online learning this year and that means no in-person classes or time spent learning alongside fellow students.

"By the time we were cleared to come on campus, it was around July 12 and we had to isolate for a week until we could get tested and cleared," Mikesell said of the COVID-19 protocols. "My parents helped me move but with all of my classes online and being a student athlete, you're already limited as far as what you see and have time to experience, so I really don't know where our campus is other than it's behind our arena and if you asked me to show you where something is on campus, I probably couldn't get you there."

With most everything closed down, there haven't been many places to go and with campus nearly empty save for athletes who need to be on hand to practice, train and play, it's been far from the normal college experience. Ironically, while the situation is far from ideal, at least one of its side effects has been helpful to Mikesell.

Oregon’s Taylor Mikesell is introduced before the game against USC.

Transitioning from one high-level, national powerhouse program to another can be difficult even for the best players as they learn new coaches, teammates and systems while adjusting to life in a new city.

Because of the pandemic, some of the off-court challenges have been muted or eliminated, simplifying the transition process.

"It's been a little easier than expected even though some things are harder due to COVID," Mikesell said. "All you have are your teammates and that little circle with the team that we have every single day, so get to know coaches and teammates better than you normally would because usually there are other places to go other and other things you can do (outside of basketball)."

These days, online classes, practice and games have become the primary components of Mikesell's days. Facing a rugged PAC-12 that includes four teams that have been ranked in the top 15 when the Ducks faced them, Oregon has had one test after another and began the week 13-6 and with its hopes set on vying for a conference title and making an impact in the NCAA tournament.

Mikesell ranks fifth on the team at 8.7 points per game and is making 34.4 percent of her 3-pointers. She's missed just one free throw all season and ranks third on the roster with 32 assists.

University of Oregon Taylor Mikesell (11) holds her own against University of Washington Alexis Griggsby (35) at Matthew Knight Arena on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.

When it comes to play in a new conference, Mikesell said the level of competition is high, as it was in the Big Ten, even if the style of play in the PAC-12 may differ a bit.

"For the most part it's similar, but in the Big Ten in general, some teams are more known for having a lot of incredibly talented post players and not as much for their guards," she noted.

Oregon has produced its share of top guards in recent years, including the top pick in last year's WNBA Draft, Sabrina Ionescu. Now a junior, Mikesell has a chance to make her own mark in Eugene and build on the strong start she posted at Maryland, along with her experiences over the past few years playing for USA Basketball.

None of those experiences could prepare her or her teammates for the experience of playing in front of empty arenas this season, but they've done their best to adjust. Competing in large arenas with only the teams, referees and essential game staff has been unique, but the hope is to have some fans in the stands for the NCAA Tournament.

For her part, Mikesell has only been able to come back to Jackson Township twice since moving to Oregon, once in September and a few days around Christmas. She's also dealt with a few minor complications with her academic credits while transferring and in the process, shifted from majoring in communication to majoring in sociology. Her goal remains to play professionally for as long as possible and down the road, perhaps pursue a career in broadcasting or coaching.

In the short term, there's also the hope that life returns to something closer than normal and that when it does, she can enjoy more of the college experience in her new home. For the time being, it's hoops and digital classrooms with an eye on finishing the season strong.