The United States Tennis Association's Collegiate Team has been a part of the USTA's commitment to college tennis since 1996, but beginning this spring, it's taking a new direction.
Taylor is USTA National Coach of Collegiate Tennis
USTA Player Development National Coach Dustin Taylor was selected to take over responsibility for the program, and he began formulating his strategies for assisting college players in February.
A native of Portland, Oregon, Taylor spent two of his teenage years at the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Florida. After graduating from high school in Portland, Taylor spent a year competing for the Wisconsin Badgers before transferring to Tulsa, where he was an All-American in doubles in 2003. His longtime association with the DePalmer family, which initially led to his time at Bollettieri's, continued when he coached Rhyne Williams, former Tennessee head coach Mike DePalmer's grandson, during Williams' early years in junior tennis.
After briefly using his Tulsa business degree in a sales position, Taylor returned to tennis, coaching local juniors. Before long he became a pro touring coach, working with Brian Wilson, Robert Kendrick, Ryan Sweeting and Tim Smyczek. In 2010, Taylor joined the USTA, working with both young professionals and juniors before taking on his new responsibilities.
At the NCAA Division I Championships at the University of Illinois last month, I spoke with Taylor about his new position and his goals for the USTA Collegiate Team.
Questions and Answers
Colette Lewis (CL): Why did the USTA decide to create a National Coach of Collegiate Tennis?
Dustin Taylor (DT): We've been taking care of college players, but we never really had a structure to it. The USTA never presented itself as we really, really support college tennis as a real viable pathway to professional tennis. We thought it, but we never really knew how to go about it. So we had the idea of having the collegiate summer team, let's turn that into a year-round team, where college coaches can give their players an opportunity to play tournaments in the fall, pro events, and in the spring, where the school doesn't have to take them, doesn't have to pay.
When they gave me the job, they just said, 'You're a resource for college tennis, do what you want with it.' And I sat back in the chair and said, 'Where do I start?' But I said I think everything needs to be based around this collegiate team, bringing six or eight or 12 of the best players together where I can build a relationship with the players and build a relationship with their coaches. The biggest thing is the relationships and the communication, and the women's side is where I really need to build the relationships. That's probably the No. 1 thing in my job, to let the coaches know I'm a resource.
CL: What led to you accept the job?
DT: Being one of the few college guys on the national staff, I really felt it was my calling. Obviously if they were going to hire from outside, it would be a great job for a number of coaches around the country. But I was on the national staff and probably the most supportive person of college tennis, and have relationships with guys like Jarmere Jenkins, Mitchell Frank, who have been a part of the collegiate team. So I said I would do it.
Robin Anderson of UCLA is on the 2013 team
I'm such a big advocate of college tennis - what it can do for young men and young women, their character. Of course their tennis, but more importantly, life. I think the players who go though college, and go out on tour and don't make it, they're fine. But a lot of the ones who skip out on college, go out on the tour and don't make it? I worry about them. Just the maturity aspect, playing for something larger than yourself, the team, all that is so crucial.
CL: When did you make the transition from your previous duties at USTA?
DT: My last tournament with the pros was at the SAP Open in San Jose, and I went up to the National Indoors for the men from San Jose, and it's sort of been off to the races from there. It was dual season, so it was a good time to gather my thoughts and figure out how to hit the ground running with it, how the vision can all come together.
CL: What is the criterion for selection?
DT: The first objective was to get the collegiate team rebranded, make it merit-based so you're really proud to be a part of the team.
If you win the All-American, the Indoor or the NCAAs, you're automatically a part of the team. If you're the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rookie of the Year, you're on the team. If you're top 750 ATP or Top 500 WTA, you're on the team. Those are your automatic qualifiers. For the men, the player that picks up the most points on the Pro Circuit in June, including the Pittsburgh Futures and Winnetka Challenger and excluding Innisbrook, that's one spot on the team as well.*
For example, this year Lauren Embree won the All-American, Robin Anderson the Indoor, Nicole Gibbs and Krista Hardebeck are Top 500 WTA and Julia Elbaba is the Rookie of the Year, so the other seven invited to the camp will play off for the last spot.
Next year, no American could win anything, so you give out invites to 12 and the camp will determine all six.
The six that are on the team, you get a clothing sponsor, Athletic DNA, you get the coaching and you get the grant money. For the other six who are invited to the camp, who don't make the team, but show up at the camp, they get grant money as well for that summer. But they don't get their hotels paid for. I don't want to say they won't get coaching, because we're going to try to help everyone, but there has to be some incentive to make the team.....read more