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''We’re defending well in the way of Thornton basketball, unlike the last two years, and we’re scoring off steals and making shots,” Thornton's Justin Taylor (right) said. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media

Justin Taylor plays basketball with relentless intensity. With last week’s abbreviated schedule due to frigid temperatures, the Thornton senior swingman had plenty 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 crucial in the team’s continued improvement and pursuit of district rival Thornwood for the SouthWest Suburban Red conference lead.

Taylor scored 16 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds as the No. 18 Wildcats defeated Bradley-Bourbonnais 77-67 Friday in Kankakee. The Wildcats (6-1 in conference) are a game behind Thornwood in the conference standings.

For his accomplishments, 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.

Taylor, a versatile 6-6 wing, has been the cornerstone of the Wildcats’ restoration project. He is averaging a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds this 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-Bourbonnais game illustrated his varied game.

“I actually started the game off pretty slowly, my shot wasn’t really falling, and I wanted to do something else,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘Since my shots weren’t going in, I had to crash the boards and get my points like that.”

Taylor capably moves between shooting guard and small forward. 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 suffering back-to-back uncharacteristic down years, the Wildcats are again formidable. The team finished runner-up to No. 5 Marian Catholic at the McDipper Tournament, where Taylor was a first-team all-tournament selection.

“Defense is the key to 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.”

According to Taylor, Chicago State, Southern Indiana and Northern Michigan have been charting his progress this year. With the backing of his parents, he is going to wait until the end of the season before making a college decision.

Thornton has reached Peoria three times in Jackson’s tenure, and Taylor is ready to end his high school career on the perfect note.

“Everybody is serious this year and wants to win,“ Taylor 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.”

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