Taylor making seamless transition from Simeon to Marquette

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Taylor making seamless transition from Simeon to Marquette

Steve Taylor is hoping to become both the latest success story to come out of Simeon's basketball program, and the newest 'switchable' to succeed under Buzz Williams at Marquette.
The 6-foot-7 forward was the top-ranked Illinois recruit in the 2012 class, and was pegged by most outlets as a top-70 recruit nationally. He signed with Marquette last November and arrived on campus this summer, ready to make an impact as an inside-out threat.
And though 2012-2013 will mark Taylor's first season with a Division-I program, but he has plenty of experience with a winning program after his time spent at Simeon Career Academy, where he won three straight state championships.
Playing under head coach Robert Smith, who said he runs his practices as close to a collegiate level as possible, Taylor said he came to Milwaukee prepared for what awaited him under Buzz Williams and Marquette.
"We worked hard at Simeon, so when I got here to Marquette it was second nature," Taylor said. "You have to work hard to get what you want. Once I got here, I realized high school practices were nothing like this."
Taylor, along with the top-ranked 2013 recruit Jabari Parker, helped lead Simeon to three straight state championships. Taylor, who called himself the leader of that team, averaged 16 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks per game his senior season, capping a 33-1 record.
Marquette fans got their first glimpse of Taylor at Marquette Madness, held on the school's campus to unofficially open the season Friday night.
Taylor played all 24 minutes of the scrimmage in front of Parker, who took the drive to Milwaukee to watch his former teammate while wearing Taylor's No. 15 Simeon jersey.
Taylor finished with four points and four rebounds. It wasn't a dominating performance, but the 6-foot-7 Taylor more than held his own in the paint against established post scorers, notably junior Jamil Wilson and senior Chris Otule.
But one big difference Taylor is still adjusting to is the speed and size of the game.
No longer is Taylor the tallest player on the court, giving way to the 6-foot-11 Otule and 6-foot-8 Davante Gardner. Even the 6-foot-7 Wilson, who Taylor called one of his biggest mentors during the summer, poses a threat in practice that he is still getting used to.
"I need to get tougher. I know I've improved there a lot, and I've gotten stronger," Taylor said. "But I need to be able to finish around the rim a little bit more."
Part of his improved frame involved adding 15 pounds to his frame since arriving on campus in June. Now up to 234 pounds, Taylor feels confident he can compete for immediate minutes in a Marquette rotation that lost senior Jae Crowder to the NBA Draft.
Crowder, last year's Big East Player of the Year, averaged 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds while playing as an undersized power forward position.
Marquette will have size with the aforementioned bigs, but Taylor said he wants to be part of that rotation.
To do so, he has been in the video room watching film on former Marquette players referred to by Williams as switchables -- forwards with inside-out games who can guard multiple positions on the floor.
That includes Crowder, but also current Chicago Bulls wing Jimmy Butler, who played forward for Williams from 2008 to 2011. Much like Butler, Taylor sees himself as more of an inside player at this point with an improving jump shot.
"I watch film all the time," Taylor said, "and whenever I watch I picture myself doing the same things. I feel more comfortable in the paint because I can score there."
Taylor's comfort level also increased when he came to campus in June because of a new NCAA rule that allowed head coaches to practice with their teams eight hours per week during the summer.
"It's not a lot, but it does give you an opportunity to be around them every day," Williams said. "I think it allows them to stay in some sort of routine, academically and athletically, and I think it put us on a better slope once the school year started."
Taylor is a proven winner, one of the reasons Williams wanted him, and now he's making a seamless transition to the college game. His versatility will be a key asset in Marquette's up-tempo offense, and he understands that if he follows his coach's lead that same success from Chicago will follow him to Milwaukee.
"The way Buzz explained it, I'm just a player. So whatever it is he needs me to do that's what I'm gonna do. So I don't have a set position," Taylor said." And if I do what Buzz says I'll get out there."
And based on Williams' track record with players like Taylor, the Simeon graduate will see success once he's out there, too.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the first edition of EFT Football Academy, TF North graduate Landon Cox, who was a star wide receiver at Northern Illinois and later in the NFL, shares some tips on how to become a better receiver and be more efficient on the field.

Cox is a Performance Specialist and wide receiver coach at EFT. In this segment Cox works on a few different techniques with Warren Township junior wide receiver Micah Jones.

EFT has evolved into the premier elite performance training facility in the Midwest, where every EFT football coach has NFL experience and the dedication to helping each player reach their potential. The EFT Football Academy is designed to assist in the development of grade school, high school, and collegiate football players.

Some of their off-season training experience includes 70+ active NFL athletes, six Super Bowl Champions, six Olympics, and more.

[MORE: High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1]

In addition, performance includes explosive power development, positional movement pattern development, proper spring and change of direction mechanics, and more. Every EFT workout focuses on improving each athlete's overall abilities like speed development, agility and mobility, acceleration and deceleration, and strength and condition — just to name a few.

Former Bears wide receiver Devin Hester called it "the best workout in the world."

Watch Cox's tips in the video above, and be sure to look out for next week's edition on CSNChicago.com.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.