It took about fifteen seconds for Lamond Johnson to make his presence felt on the court with Kenwood.
“He was yelling on the first play and that carried us throughout the game,” Broncos junior Seryee Lewis said. “That was the reason we won. LJ brings a lot of energy.”
Johnson played at Morgan Park his first two years of high school. He transferred to a school in Texas last season.
“I’m back,” Johnson said. “This is exciting. This team is young. I’m just trying to go out with a bang and get these kids going. They have the energy, they have the talent. We just have to bring it up out of them.”
No. 22 Kenwood beat No. 16 St. Rita 55-46 in the Riverside-Brookfield Thanksgiving Tournament on Monday.
Johnson scored six points and played his usual high-energy defense. He might be just the player Broncos coach Marlo Finner needed to held meld his team together.
“[Johnson] brings toughness and big game experience,” Finner said. “He’s a great leader and a motivator. That’s a big plus for us.”
Kenwood also has an eye-opening talent. Lewis, a 6-8 junior, scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds. He has a smooth game and looks very comfortable in the post.
“He has a chance,” Finner said. “He has made up his mind to be a high-major player. You can’t be high-major one day and not the next. It’s about pushing for that level every day. There is no doubt if he stays committed and hungry he can be one of the best players in the state.”
Senior guard Artese Stapleton led the Broncos with 18 points and five rebounds. Johnson scored six and junior Richard Simmons added nine points and four boards.
Kenwood led by 14 early but St. Rita surged back with a 21-4 run to lead 30-27 midway through the third quarter.
Some of Finner’s previous teams at Kenwood may have folded under that adversity.
“After last season I made up my mind to make sure these guys were mentally prepared at the very start of the season,” Finner said. “We are going to be pretty good.”
The Broncos didn’t allow St. Rita to score a field goal in the final three minutes of the third quarter. Kenwood led 35-31 and never looked back.
“So far these kids have really bought in to what we’ve been teaching,” Finner said. “We have the seeds of something special. We are way ahead of where we were at this point last season.”
Lewis transferred from Marist to Kenwood last season. He was part of the large group of private school to Public League transfers that fought eligibility issues all season.
“I missed most of last season so it is really important to perform this season,” Lewis said. “The game came easy to me and we were very efficient as a team. It was fun. LJ makes such a difference. We say that once he gets turnt everyone gets turnt.”
Junior guard Joel Watts led the Mustangs with 12 points and Jeremiah Oden added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Want to hear all about the Sun-Times’ preseason Super 25 basketball rankings? Michael O’Brien and Joe Henricksen go in-depth on all 25 teams in the latest episode of No Shot Clock, the Chicago high school basketball podcast. LISTEN HERE.