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‘It’s showtime’: JJ Taylor is gone, but expectations remain sky-high at Kenwood

Broncos coach Mike Irvin has assembled plenty of talent. Davius Loury and highly regarded junior guard Darrin “Dai Dai” Ames are back from last season. 

Kenwood’s Darrin Ames (4) drives the ball past Clemente’s Trey Spires (2).
Kenwood’s Darrin Ames (4) drives the ball past Clemente’s Trey Spires (2).
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Junior guard JJ Taylor has left for California. His former teammates at Kenwood say they’re proud of him and wish him well. But they don’t think his departure has altered their goals for the season one bit.

“We can win city and state this year,” junior forward Davius Loury said. “We are ready to go. We had some team bonding, and we have plenty of chemistry.”

Broncos coach Mike Irvin has assembled a talented crew. Loury and highly regarded junior guard Darrin “Dai Dai” Ames are back from last season. Senior Trey Pettigrew, a Nevada recruit, has transferred in from Arizona after previously spending two years at Fenwick. Senior guard Darius Robinson has arrived from Thornton, rebounding whiz Solomon Mosley transferred from St. Rita and 6-10 sophomore forward Jaden Smith transferred from Lincoln Park.

That’s a lot of new pieces to blend together with Loury, who arrived from Simeon last year, and Ames, who transferred from Bloom last year. Irvin is not concerned.

“Everyone fits my style,” he said. “We get up and down. It’s showtime. Throw it off the backboard, but then go play defense. I haven’t met too many guys that don’t like my style.”

Jumping jack Calvin Robins, a 6-5 sophomore, will get a chance to contribute immediately. And Irvin says freshman Bryce Heard, who’s already well-known, has the potential to be one of the best players the city has ever produced if he continues working hard.

“We have it all,” Irvin said. “There’s star power, athleticism, size and three-point shooting. We probably have the best three-point shooting in the state. It’s exciting. This is one of the most exciting teams I’ve been around.”

Kenwood will play a national schedule with games at major events in Massachusetts, South Dakota and more.

Pettigrew, who was impressive at Fenwick as a sophomore, should be one of the state’s best players.

“He flies,” Irvin said. “He’s jumping even higher now than he was in the summer. He’s probably the most athletic guard in the class.”

Said Pettigrew: “I have a lot to prove this season. I’m just going to play the best I can and prove a lot of people wrong.”

Ames and Loury received rave reviews on the summer circuit but haven’t had a chance to make an impact yet in high school. Ames can’t wait.

“The bigger the game is, the more I come out and play my game,” he said. “I like the big games.”

Irvin is also the head coach of the Mac Irvin Fire club basketball team and was an assistant to his brother Nick at Morgan Park for many years. This will be his first full season as a high school coach, but he has spent his life around Chicago high school hoops, so nothing will be new to him.

Although Kenwood is undoubtedly talented and capable of beating any team in the state, there’s still a nagging feeling that fans missed out on something special with Taylor — who would have been the headliner of this group — transferring to California.

“People think it was just a loss for Kenwood, but it was a loss for the whole state,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “We’re constantly losing our better players to prep schools. I thought Taylor was one of the best players in the Public League in a long time.”

Irvin and his Broncos are used to things changing quickly — used to new faces and new places.

“Losing [Taylor] wasn’t what we planned,” Irvin said. “But I haven’t been around many teams where you can lose a top national kid and then still have two of the best players in that class [Ames and Loury]. That’s special.”

Listen to the season debut of the No Shot Clock high school basketball podcast. Michael O’Brien and Joe Henricksen break down the preseason Super 25: