The Long Island Lutheran gymnasium was dressed in red, white and blue, but it was another color that was most prevalent.
With a gold medal around her neck and a navy blue Team USA T-shirt on her back, Crusaders girls basketball player Celeste Taylor was welcomed back to LuHi Monday night in an intimate celebration with family, friends and teammates.
Taylor returned home last Tuesday from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she started each of the under-16 national team’s five games in the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, including the 91-46 championship victory over Canada.
Crusaders coach Rich Slater presented the 5-11 sophomore from Valley Stream with a framed, game-worn Team USA jersey with her No. 7 on the front that he intends to hang in the gym’s rafters.
“Just to know that people back home are here supporting me every step of the way, I mean, I came from something so small,” Taylor said, “and to be able to come back and bring not only my country, but the city that I live a gold medal, is an amazing honor.”
Taylor spoke passionately about her experiences, from the electricity of the Argentinian home crowd in the semifinals to her fascination at the different styles of play of other nations. Most of all, she was eager to talk about how humbling it all was.
“You’re playing with 11 amazing other players who can play defense, shoot . . . play basketball just as good as you can,” Taylor said.
She made the 12-player team after several rounds of cuts whittled the initial group of 133 hopefuls to the final roster. She was tasked with guarding the opposition’s point guards in the tournament, a testament to her athleticism and defensive tenacity.
Upon her return, Slater immediately noticed how much Taylor had developed as a player.
“She’s totally grown up since the end of our season to now,” he said. “I think she understands that small things are really, really big things. I think she understands now that she doesn’t have to shoot the ball 20 times or score 30 points per game for us.”
Among those welcoming Taylor back to LuHi was Lauren “Boogie” Brozoski, a former Crusaders standout and current Hofstra women’s basketball player.
Brozoski’s name hangs in the gym on a banner honoring her 2014-15 Gatorade New York State Player of the Year award. The three-time Newsday All-Long Island Player of the Year said she always knew that Taylor could be a star, even as a wide-eyed eighth grader.
“As soon as she walked on to this court, I knew that she was going to be something special,” said Brozoski, who helped mentor Taylor and remains her close friend. “I’m honored that her name is going to be hanging next to mine.”
Taylor said she hopes to also play on the under-17 team, but for now she’s focused on basking in the memories made this month.
“It just felt like a dream,” she said.
It must have felt golden.