Chris Taft hasn't played professional basketball since an eight game stint with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers during the 2007-08 NBA Development League season. Even then, the former Big East's Rookie of the Year was only playing in the D-League as a means to return to the NBA after a series of unfortunate incidents.
Taft began his career as a draft pick of the Golden State Warriors following two solid seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, even showing up in the rotation, but his career soon took a turn for the worse.
"I had a great and very successful two years at Pittsburgh -- I was even named Big East Rookie of the Year -- and I just kept working hard until I got the opportunity to play in the NBA, which happened when I got drafted by Golden State," Taft said. "It looked like my career was off to a good start because I wasn't just drafted by them, I was playing. I played in the first game of the season against the Atlanta Hawks, and I was even in the rotation, but then things out of my control began to happen."
First, the 6-foot-10 big man missed a few games during his rookie year due to back spasms. Eventually, the pain worsened and it was determined Taft would need to have season ending surgery due to a herniated disc. Not long after, it was discovered that Taft had polymyositis -- an inflammatory muscle disease that causes weakness of the skeletal muscles, which control movement.
For most, being diagnosed with such a disease would easily end any hopes of an NBA career considering the long road it would take to get back to playing at basketball's highest level. Taft decided to devote himself to that road however, and thanks to hard work and some help from God above, the 26-year-old is working himself back toward another NBA opportunity.
"I'm finally healthy, I'm humble and I'm hungry," Taft told Ridiculous Upside by phone on Thursday. "I just want to get back to where I was. I've been working hard toward an NBA comeback."
This isn't the first comeback Taft has attempted, however. After undergoing back surgery during his rookie year in 2006 and finding out about polymyositis that summer, he was released by the Warriors prior to camp the following season. Taft was forced to sit out the entire following season as he slowly regained his health.
"A lot of different doctors hesitated and didn't think that I would be able to get back like I am now, but actually the doctors didn't even think I'd healed enough when I made my first comeback, to play in the D-League," Taft said. "From 2006 to 2008, doctors kept telling me that I'd never be able to do this or that again, but I refused to believe it and I made it back."
Taft was picked up by the aforementioned Vipers in the middle of the 2007-08 D-League season, but after just eight games -- including a solid two-game performance at the annual D-League Showcase -- tragedy struck again when he dislocated his ankle after landing awkwardly while corralling a rebound.
"My whole foot was turned around. I was laid out, yelling and screaming. They popped it back, but the cast was put on wrong, and I wound up with a bone infection," Taft told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I'm like, 'Man, how does this stuff keep happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?'"
There's no clear answer as to what Taft did to deserve the hardships he's endured thus far in his professional career, but it made me question what the reason was for attempting a third comeback at the game that seems to have forsaken him thus far.
"My motivation to get back into is just my passion, the passion for the game has been there all my life, man," Taft says. "Three years ago, I went back to my college -- Pittsburgh -- to go back to school, focus on my education and in the mean time I've been a motivational speaker, but the passion to play basketball has always been there and it always will be there.
"I'm still young, I'm only 26 years old so I haven't really even reached my peak yet and my legs are fresh. I'm hungry to get back on the court and reach my potential."
His potential is formidable as the rebounder showed solid defensive skills, combined with a big body and deft passing prior to the injury. Without seeing him in person, it's difficult to surmise if that's all still there, but it seems he's ready to prove that it is as soon as someone, somewhere, gives him another chance.
"The plan right now, after talking to my agent (BJ Bass of RBA Sports) about the situation, is that I'd definitely be interested in playing in the D-League this season," Taft told me. "The exposure is great, the competition is great and I loved the time I had in RGV a few years ago. So, as of right now, that's pretty much the plan and I'll just trust BJ that he and his group will do whatever they can to keep me headed in the right direction."
Bass echoed that the D-League is probably the best option -- at least with the NBA lockout ongoing -- saying the D-League "might be the best place for CT to get back on the NBA ladder and prove to teams that he is healthy."
If Taft is able to reinsert himself into the NBA, he seems to know exactly who was behind his career's resurgence.
"Part of the real reason I was able to overcome everything was because of my faith in God and the faith I've put in Him has helped me get through it. I took the medications and did the things the doctors told me to do as well, of course, but I really feel that part of it was supernatural," Taft said. "Doctors told me I wouldn't even be able to do half the stuff that I'm doing now. When I see them and tell them what I'm able to do, they're amazed, but I tell them God is great and hard work pays off."
For the work to pay off completely for Taft, however, the NBA is the ultimate goal.
"I just want people to know and understand that Chris Taft is on his way to a comeback. I'm healthy, humble and hungry and I'm willing to do whatever I have to do to get back," Taft said. "I'm confident in my ability on the basketball court and my belief in God that I'll get back to where I need to be. I have a wonderful support system in my wife and my two kids and I just want to do what I have to do for them."