Robert 'Tractor' Traylor's high school coaches remember him as a happy, well-mannered kid
Robert "Tractor" Traylor never became the NBA star that his draft status suggested he might be, and his success at Michigan will always be overshadowed by the Ed Martin scandal.
But for those who were around him during his days at Detroit Murray-Wright High School, Traylor -- who was found dead today at the age of 34 -- will forever be remembered as a player with incredible talent and the work ethic and manners to match.
“Everybody loved him. There’s not one person that could say anything bad about him, especially the people in the neighborhood that he grew up at,” said former Murray-Wright assistant coach Earl Moore, who remembers first meeting a 9-year-old Traylor with the hands and feet of a grown man.
“He didn’t have any kind of skills, but he would be in that gym Monday through Friday, trying to work on his game to get better,” Moore said.
Ann Arbor News file photo
Former Murray-Wright head basketball coach Robert Smith was also the school's cross country coach, so he made Traylor join the team and helped him get his weight under control.
“He hated those Wayne State (University) steps,” Smith said. “I had him running them at least once or twice a week.”
The work paid off. Traylor finished every cross country race he entered and, according to Smith, never stopped during any of them in his two years on the team. By his senior year, Traylor was down to 285 pounds.
Murray-Wright won the Class A state championship and a Detroit Public School League championship his junior year. Traylor was Michigan’s Mr. Basketball during his senior year in 1995 and Murray-Wright repeated as PSL champions.
“He had pro written all over him and a smile that could light up the room,” said Daryl Weaver, longtime public address announcer for the PSL. “He was such a gregarious, happy go-lucky kid. A good guy to be around.”
Smith said Traylor wasn’t always so happy go-lucky when teams would adopt the “Hack-a-Tractor” approach during games, the only somewhat effective defensive strategy against him.
“He had to be tough, he took all the punishment they would roll out, but it would wear on him,” Smith said. “But he was a great leader. He would tell the other guys, especially -- when they were (fouling) him -- he’d say ‘take the shot, don’t worry if you miss it, I’ll get the rebound.’”
Traylor stayed in touch with Smith and Moore after high school and had them both by his side at the 1998 NBA Draft in Vancouver, when he was the sixth overall pick by the Dallas Mavericks.
“We were just so happy for him,” Moore remembers. “The amount of work and time that he put in was remarkable, especially for a guy his size.”
If the scandal that tarnished his playing career at Michigan took a toll on Traylor, he never verbalized it to his former coaches. Both Moore and Smith said they never spoke to Traylor about the controversy.
The last time Smith and Traylor spoke was about a year ago. Traylor called his old coach because he had heard he was sick, and wanted to know how he was doing.
“He was a very well-mannered guy, raised by his grandmother, everything was ‘yes sir, no sir,” Smith said. “He was a good kid.”