Boys Basketball: Thornton’s Taylor showing steady improvement
By Patrick Z. McGavin For Sun-Times Media February 3, 2014 7:04PM
Justin Taylor, of Thornton | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Justin Taylor plays basketball with a relentless intensity and high-end activity. With last week’s weather-abbreviated schedule, the Thornton star senior swingman had a lot of pent up energy.
“With those days without school last week, we missed a couple of practices and had a game postponed, so the two practices we did have, we went at it a lot harder than normal to get ready for Bradley,” he said.
Taylor was ready to go and had a laser focus. The Wildcats played just one game, but it was a crucial one in the team’s continued improvement and pursuit of district rival Thornwood for the conference lead in the SouthWest Suburban Red.
Taylor scored 16 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds as the Wildcats defeated Bradley 77-67 Friday night in Kankakee. The Wildcats (6-1 in conference) are a game behind Thornwood in the conference standings.
For his accomplishments, Justin Taylor is the Sun-Times Athlete of the Week.
Taylor has been a diamond in the rough who has shown steady and marked improvement.
“When he first came to me on the varsity three years ago, he was raw, but you saw the talent and his desire,” Thornton coach Troy Jackson said.
The versatile 6-foot-6 player has been the cornerstone of the Wildcats’ restoration project.
Taylor is averaging a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds on the season.
“He’s the leader of the team, and as the coach, he gives you pretty much everything you ask for,” Jackson said.
The Bradley game illustrated Taylor’s varied game.
“I actually started the game off pretty slowly, my shot wasn’t really falling, and I wanted to do something else since my shots weren’t going in and I had to crash the boards and get my points like that,” Taylor said.
The athletic Taylor said his natural position is on the wing, and he capably moves between shooting guard and small forward. With senior teammate Jamani Pierce, Taylor anchors the Wildcats’ front court.
His game is predicated on toughness and aggression.
“The strengths of my game are rebounding, defense and making shots at the rim,” he said. “I tend to play outside, but I also like to crash the glass.”
After Thornton suffered back-to-back uncharacteristically down years compared with its lofty standards, the Wildcats again are formidable. The team finished runner-up to Marian Catholic at the McDipper Tournament, where Taylor was a first team all-tournament selection.
“Defense is the key to the team,” Taylor said. “We’re defending well in the way of Thornton basketball, unlike the last two years, and we’re scoring off steals and making shots.”
Chicago State, Southern Indiana and Northern Michigan are the colleges that have been most consistently charting his progress this year, he said. Taylor said with the backing of his parents he is going to wait until the end of the season before making a choice about college.
Thornton has reached the state finals in Peoria three times in Jackson’s tenure.
Taylor is ready to end his high school career on the perfect note.
“Everybody is serious this year and wants to win,“ he said. “Coach Jackson likes us, and he knows how to get teams to where they need to be.
“We’re greedy like the old Thornton teams, and that’s how we play.”