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Highly regarded sophomore JJ Taylor transfers from Morgan Park to Kenwood

That and more in Joe Henricksen’s latest notebook.

JJ Taylor playing for Morgan Park last season.
JJ Taylor playing for Morgan Park last season.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

There was all kinds of chatter throughout the summer about where JJ Taylor would end up.

Taylor, the top-ranked prospect in Illinois in the Class of 2023, attended Morgan Park last year. But coach Nick Irvin departed for the college ranks, landing an assistant coaching job at Western Illinois. A flurry of transfers followed, leaving the Morgan Park roster decimated.

There was no bigger departure than Taylor, a physically gifted and talented 6-7 wing.

There was talk Taylor would end up at Simeon, where his older brother, Steve Taylor, played several years ago before playing collegiately at Marquette and Toledo. Rumors flew that Taylor was headed to a prep school. Others said he may end up in California.

But at the end of the day he stayed home, in Chicago, deciding to attend Kenwood. That’s where Nick Irvin’s brother, Mike Irvin, was recently named head coach.

Now Taylor becomes the face of a program that instantly becomes one of the better young rosters in the city. In addition to Taylor, Darrin Ames (formerly of Morgan Park) and Davius Loury (formerly of Simeon) are enrolled at Kenwood. They are two of the top prospects in the Class of 2023. Plus, highly regarded 6-3 freshman Chris Riddle is in the building.

But Taylor, who is ESPN’s No. 20 ranked player in the Class of 2023, is a talent who can potentially lift a program to another level over the course of his career.

“You could see the growth throughout last season in practice,” said Mike Irvin. “There were times where he was the best prospect in the gym — hands down. Now it’s about taking that next step, which he will do.”

Mike Irvin says he has coached some great ones over the years while running the Mac Irvin Fire club program. He is already putting Taylor among the high-level players he has coached.

“I haven’t seen a 15-year-old kid –– and I’ve coached and seen a lot of them –– with the package of talent that he has,” said Mike Irvin. “The things he can do are at another level. And you don’t see that type of swag at that age. He will have some monster games and put up big, big numbers.”

New leader at Lincoln Park

It was tumultuous season for Lincoln Park a year ago, one that started with a bang but ended prematurely with a suspended season due to off-court issues.

It also ended what was a nice little five-year run from the Lions under coach Pat Gordon.

Antwon Jennings takes over for Gordon. Jennings, who has been coaching AAU basketball while running Team RWA on the club circuit, will try to keep the program among the upper echelon in the Public League’s Red-West/North.

But for Jennings, who has some Public League coaching experience as Nick Irvin’s assistant at Morgan Park, it’s a return home. Jennings was born and raised in Lincoln Park and is a 2000 Lincoln Park High School graduate.

“This means so much to me, to lead a high school basketball program in Chicago,” said Jennings. “By returning here to coach, it’s like me giving back to my family, because my whole family went there. So it’s more than just basketball for me.”

Jennings knows the North Side and appreciates what it has to offer, including the strong combination of academics and basketball at Lincoln Park.

“It’s a great place to be with top-of-the-line academics,” said Jennings. “North Side basketball is overlooked. There are players that are forgotten about and who just aren’t household names. But it’s a place where you can attract the best kids from the North Side.”

Where Illinois prospects rank nationally

It’s been five-plus years since the state had a top 20 prospect in the country. Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson was the last in the Class of 2015.

Before that Jahlil Okafor of Young, Cliff Alexander of Curie and Tyler Ulis of Marian Catholic were all top 20 players in the Class of 2014. And before that trio, Jabari Parker (Class of 2013) and Anthony Davis (Class of 2011) were consensus top five players.

While the state has been absent of top 20 national talent, Illinois currently has a top 20 prospect in the Class of 2021, Class of 2022 and Class of 2023.

The headliner is senior Max Christie of Rolling Meadows. The Michigan State recruit is a consensus top 20 prospect, ranked No. 12 by 247Sports, No. 13 by ESPN and No. 18 by Rivals.

Fenwick’s Bryce Hopkins, one of the top uncommitted prospects in the country, is the 30th ranked prospect nationally.

DePaul recruit Ahamad Bynum of Simeon is No. 75, while Michigan recruit Isaiah Barnes, who transferred from Oak Park to Simeon, is now among the top 100 prospects, according to 247sports. Barnes is ranked No. 82 by 247.

AJ Casey, a junior who recently transferred to Young, is the 17th ranked prospect in the country in the Class of 2022, according to ESPN. He checks in at No. 20 in the Rivals rankings and No. 24 in 247Sports rankings.

A pair of other juniors –– Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt and Glenbard West’s Braden Huff –– are two other top 100 prospects nationally in the Class of 2022. Huff is ranked No. 68 by 247sports while Schutt is ranked 91st.

In the sophomore class, ESPN has Kenwood’s Taylor ranked as the 20th best prospect in the Class of 2023.

The superstar who left

Amari Bailey, who was the state’s best eighth-grader a few years back, is currently a consensus top 10 prospect in the country in the Class of 2022. The 6-4 junior guard left Chicago before entering high school and attends California powerhouse Sierra Canyon, where Bronny James, the son of Lebron James, plays.

Bailey is ESPN’s No. 3 ranked prospect in the country. He’s No. 5 and No. 6 in the country, according to 247sports and Rivals, respectively.