Scotsman Obituaries: Robert Taft, eminent basketball player and coach

Robert Taft, basketball player and coach. Born: February 10 1956 in Greenock. Died: February 4 2022 in Paisley, aged 65

Bob Taft was still playing basketball in his sixties
Bob Taft was still playing basketball in his sixties

The death of Bob Taft, following a short but valiant battle against cancer has been keenly felt across the basketball community in Scotland. Bob was a good player; not quite international class, but, in a long career with several clubs, he garnered a reputation as a hard but fair defender and a shooter, particularly from a distance, who could keep the scoreboard ticking over.

However, his true legacy is as a coach, particularly of younger players. Bob's disciples are still active in the game in Scotland. He had the knack of instilling a love of the game and an appreciation of its history and qualities into the kids he encouraged, at club level and through his work as a coach of Scotland teams, from age group sides up to the full national squad.

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He was still playing, right up to having to quit because of his final illness. Bob was a key member of the Strathclyde and Scotland Masters squads – still pounding the boards, new knees and all, at 65 and playing in Masters tournaments in the UK and abroad.

Robert Taft was born in Greenock, the eldest of six children. His father, also Robert, was a window cleaner and times were hard. Bob shone academically at the Mount School in Greenock, and it was there his love of basketball was fostered, winning his first local trophy as an 11-year-old, before going on to play for Greenock Pacers and Inverclyde.

His teachers reckoned Robert had the brains to go on to higher education, but the needs of the family saw him leave school at 15 to become an apprentice welder in Scott Lithgow's Glen Shipyard. He served his time and was by all accounts a “bloody good welder”.

However, he had met and married Joan, a Langbank lass and the love of his life. As she recalls: “Bob came home from work one day and said: 'You know, you don't see many old welders, I'm getting out while I can'.” He obtained a job as a postman, but his talents were noticed and he was promoted to working on the counter at Paisley's main post office. This in turn led to him being head hunted 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, obtaining an Honours degree in Criminology through night time study. His final role was as Crime Risk Manager, based at the same Underwood Road office where he had started as a humble postman years earlier.

Bob rose to a high rank with POID, something he put down to his solid family upbringing in Greenock, where he was a Boys Brigade Queen's Badge and President's Award winner and also obtained his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award – service to others was always 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 moving on to play for Kilmarnock and then the short-lived, semi-professional Team Glasgow, Falkirk, Clydebank and James Watt College, before ending his top-flight playing career with Cumnock.

He also played for many years for the Civil Service Scotland basketball team, and for the full UK Civil Service team against foreign opponents. His service to Civil Service Sport saw him, in 1998, awarded the Sir Douglas Haddow Trophy, 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 established the Troon club, Bob co-founded Renfrew Rocks BC. But, the duo's best work was as a coaching team.

Bob was probably the Good Cop, to Tommy's Bad Cop as they tasted success with various Scotland age group squads and, finally, the full national squad. He also coached with St Mirren BC. While with the Buddies, he was named Scotland's Basketball Coach of the Year in 2002, and the great St Mirren Under-18 team he coached enjoyed international success at a Belgian tournament, in which they saw off the challenge of teams from Germany, Belgium Holland, Romania and the USA.

In 2005 he was awarded Basketball Scotland's 25-year service award when that organisation inaugurated National Volunteer Recognition awards.

His final role in basketball was as Head Coach at Strathclyde University. When the University authorities saw Bob's coaching CV, they said: “We don't think we can afford you.” They need not have worried, he worked unpaid, simply for the love of the game.

Basketball was not his only sporting endeavour, Bob loved his Saturday morning games of five-a-side football, particularly when playing in the same team as his son, Robert Junior.

In retirement, he and Joan became enthusiastic world travellers, and he seemed to inevitably come across old basketball rivals from other nations. Sadly, the trips were curtailed, first by Covid, then by Robert's cancer diagnosis. He battled his illness, a particularly aggressive form of the disease, with all the determination he had shown on-court, but the disease was too far gone and, after a mere four months, during which he obtained sterling care from the team at Accord Hospice, he passed away.

His early years in the Boys Brigade formed the man he would become – he was always encouraging and supporting youngsters in basketball and in life. Bob was a believer in “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. It was an ethos he carried through his life and which he preached to the many youngsters who benefited from his coaching expertise.

The Bald Eagle has passed, and the world is the poorer for his passing.


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