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Sophomore JJ Taylor prepares to step into the spotlight as Kenwood beats Clemente

The breakout season has arrived. JJ Taylor has only played two games so far this season, but he is clearly a rising star.

Kenwood’s JJ Taylor (1) dunks the ball in the game against Clemente.
Kenwood’s JJ Taylor (1) dunks the ball in the game against Clemente.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Kenwood’s JJ Taylor is the consensus No. 1-ranked player in the state’s sophomore class. He’s a major figure on the club circuit, but didn’t make a significant impact last year as a freshman at Morgan Park.

The breakout season has arrived. Taylor has only played two games so far, but he is clearly a rising star. His family is well-known for producing top athletes.

One older brother, Steve Taylor, starred at Simeon, Marquette and Toledo. Demetrius Cooper, another older brother, was a football standout at Julian and Michigan State.

Taylor played occasionally off the bench last season at Morgan Park but never had an extended run of minutes. So he entered the season a bit of an unknown, despite the lofty recruiting ranking.

The 6-8 wing drained 8-of-12 three-pointers and finished with 41 points on Wednesday at Clemente. He scored 33 on Tuesday against Bowen.

“He’s the best sophomore I’ve coached,” Kenwood coach Mike Irvin said. “He can shoot the ball and with his size and athletic ability the sky is the limit. His future is super bright.”

Taylor scored 16 points in the first quarter and 11 in the second as the Broncos knocked off Clemente 96-56.

Taylor is in the unique position of playing for a school that he’s never physically attended. But Kenwood has made an impact on him, even remotely.

“It’s not just the school, it is the entire community,” Taylor said. “They are very nice people and the academics are unbelievable. They’ve made me comfortable and I’m really enjoying it.”

Sophomore guard Darrin Ames also transferred to Kenwood from Morgan Park after coach Nick Irvin left for WIU. Sophomore Davius Loury transferred from Simeon. The trio’s arrival changed the outlook for Kenwood.

“They are real competitors and everything here has changed compared to last year,” Kenwood junior Rashard Anderson said. “We are running and gunning this season.”

Anderson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and Ames added 15 points. Loury had nine points and six rebounds.

“It feels good to get to know everybody and start to build up chemistry as a new team,” Taylor said. “We are just thrilled to have the opportunity to play any games at all.”

This short season will allow Mike Irvin and his talented sophomores to get some experience under their belts before the massive expectations begin next season.

“This is beyond good, just to get them a taste,” Irvin said. “Now we can go into next season with a different mindset. We will know what is what. They need this competition.”

Clemente (1-1) hung tough with Kenwood (2-0) until late in the second quarter. The Wildcats have two talented seniors, Terrell Taylor (19 points, nine rebounds) and Trey Spires (14 points, 10 rebounds) that will play college basketball.

“We knew that [Kenwood] had a lot of talent and length and we wanted to challenge that,” Clemente coach Adam Hoover said. “We wanted to take away [Taylor] but he just shot over our defender every time. He deserves credit for it. The three-pointer that [Taylor] made while falling out of bounds was unbelievable. It was just so natural for him.”

Watch the final minute of Kenwood at Clemente: