By Joe Henricksen
When it comes to individual talent, the Class of 2012 in Illinois has been a little maligned as both fans and college coaches have patiently waited for the emergence of a coveted prospect in the class. Simeon's Steve Taylor appears ready to be that player.
Taylor, the 6-7 junior who helped lead Simeon to a second straight state championship this past March, evolved into the state's top prospect in the Class of 2012 over the past six months. Typically, being the top-rated prospect in any class from the state of Illinois means big-time attention and a national reputation. But there has been a lack of buzz surrounding Taylor when it comes to being the state's No. 1 junior.
"I don't pay attention to the rankings," Taylor told the Hoops Report. "I just try to stay humble and try to get better. My biggest thing is making it to the next level and preparing myself for that next step."
Taylor does stay humble when talking about himself. He has a good-natured attitude, big smile and is just an overall respectful kid who is easy to talk to. And he likes having a target on his back, which comes pretty easily when you play at Simeon.
"I don't like being the underdog, never want to be an underdog," Taylor says with a laugh. "I don't feel pressure, so it's nice to have that big target on your back. That means you're the best. We're the two-time defending state champs and we want to stay the best."
The lack of attention is all about to change when it comes to Taylor's reputation and recruitment. Look for Taylor to become a consensus top 100 player nationally by the time the club circuit plays out this spring and July. And college coaches are certainly taking notice in the new and improved Taylor, who shined at the Nike Boo Williams Tournament and has impressed college coaches in open gyms this spring. Taylor sports several high-major offers, with Memphis being the latest as coach Josh Pastner offered on Wednesday.
"The class is certainly not what you would expect from the state of Illinois," said one high-major coach who recruits the state of Illinois regularly. "But Steve Taylor is the guy."
This past Monday, there were two dozen coaches at Simeon's open gym. When you consider that Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn weren't in the gym on Monday, it's easy to see the interest in Taylor. Another dozen coaches showed up Wednesday afternoon. In all, nearly 25 coaches from around the country checked in on Taylor this week alone.
"At one point, Steve didn't think he was playing very well if he wasn't scoring," says Simeon coach Robert Smith of Taylor, who averaged 9.7 points a game as a junior . "It took him some time to realize that he can impact a game in other ways and play well without necessarily scoring."
Taylor led Simeon in rebounding down the stretch this past season, averaging over 9 boards a game in the seven March victories. But what gets college coaches excited is a 6-7 face-up player who can knock down shots out to 22 feet and really run the floor.
"He is always in the gym," says Smith. "He loves it. He's improved his ballhandling and his decision-making is getting better and better. I think the sky is the limit for him."
Taylor's recruitment is truly wide open as he, his family and Smith are just beginning to get to know the high-major programs that are recruiting him.
"I haven't really even started to sort things out," says Taylor.
There will be plenty to sort out between now and signing day in November for the state's No. 1 junior.