Scottish obituaries: Robert Taft, eminent basketball player and coach

Bob Taft was still playing basketball in his 60s

The death of Bob Taft, after a short but valiant battle with cancer, was deeply felt in the basketball community in Scotland. Bob was a good player; not quite international class but, over a long career at several clubs, he developed a reputation as a tough but fair defender and a shooter, especially from distance, who could spin the scoreboard .

However, his real legacy is as a coach, especially of young players. Bob’s followers are still active in the game in Scotland. He had a knack for instilling a love of the game and an appreciation of its history and qualities in the children he nurtured, at club level and through his work as coach of Scottish teams, groups age up to the full national team.

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He was still playing, until he had to stop because of his last illness. Bob was a key member of the Strathclyde and Scotland Masters teams – still beating the boards, new knees and all, at 65 and playing in Masters tournaments in the UK and overseas.

Robert Taft was born in Greenock, the eldest of six children. His father, also Robert, was a window cleaner and times were tough. Bob shone academically at Mount School in Greenock, and it was there that his love of basketball was fostered, winning his first local trophy at the age of 11, before playing for Greenock Pacers and Inverclyde.

His teachers believed Robert had the intelligence to pursue higher education, but family needs prompted him to leave school at age 15 to apprentice as a welder at Scott Lithgow’s Glen shipyard. He had his day and was in everyone’s opinion a “good welder”.

However, he had met and married Joan, a young girl from Langbank and the love of his life. As she recalls: “Bob came home from work one day and said, ‘You know, you don’t see a lot of old welders, I’m going out when I can’.” He gets a job as a postman, but his talents are noticed and he is promoted to the counter of the main post office in Paisley. This led to him being chased into the Post Office’s Investigations Department (POID), its police force, where he investigated fraud and other nefarious activities.

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He took his job seriously, earning an honors degree in criminology through night studies. His last role was that of Crime Risk Manager, based in the same Underwood Road office where he had started as a lowly postman years earlier.

Bob achieved high rank with POID, something he attributed to his strong family upbringing at Greenock, where he was the winner of the Boys’ Brigade Queen insignia and the President’s Award and also achieved his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award – service to others has always been important to Bob. He also played basketball for local clubs in Greenock

Robert and Joan had settled in Paisley, where he continued to play basketball with the Paisley club, before playing for Kilmarnock and then the short-lived semi-professional team of Glasgow, Falkirk, Clydebank and James Watt College, before moving on to end his high-flying career with Cumnock.

He also played for many years for the Scottish Civil Service basketball team and for the full UK Civil Service team against overseas opponents. His service to the civil service of sport earned him the Sir Douglas Haddow Trophy in 1998, in recognition of his work for the Scottish Civil Service Sports Council. It was at Kilmarnock that he first teamed up with Tommy Campbell and the pair would become a force for good in West of Scotland basketball. They were known as Jack and Hack and, more recently, Jack and Victor. Tommy started the Troon club, Bob co-founded Renfrew Rocks BC. But the duo’s best work was as a coaching staff.

Bob was probably the good cop, for Tommy’s bad cop, as they tasted success with various Scottish age group teams and, finally, the full national team. He was also a coach with St Mirren BC. While with the Buddies he was named Scottish Basketball Coach of the Year in 2002, and the great St Mirren Under-18 team he coached enjoyed international success at ‘a Belgian tournament, during which they took on the challenge of teams from Germany, Belgium Holland , Romania and the United States.

In 2005, he received Basketball Scotland’s 25 Years of Service Award when that organization inaugurated the National Volunteer Recognition Awards.

His last basketball role was as head coach at the University of Strathclyde. When the University authorities saw Bob’s coaching resume, they said, “We don’t think we can pay you.” They didn’t have to worry, he worked without being paid, just for the love of the game.

Basketball wasn’t his only sporting activity, Bob loved his Saturday morning five-a-side football games, especially when he played on the same team as his son, Robert Junior.

In retirement, he and Joan became avid world travelers, and he seemed inevitably to run into former basketball rivals from other nations. Unfortunately the trips were cut short, first by Covid and then by Robert’s cancer diagnosis. He fought his disease, a particularly aggressive form of the disease, with all the determination he had shown on the pitch, but the disease was too advanced and, after just four months, during which he received exceptional care from the Accord team. Hospice, he died.

His early years in the Boys Brigade shaped the man he would become – he always encouraged and supported young people in basketball and in life. Bob believed in “failing to prepare, preparing to fail”. It is a philosophy that he has carried throughout his life and that he has preached to the many young people who have benefited from his coaching expertise.

The bald eagle has passed, and the world is poorer for his passing.

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