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Taft boys basketball downs Fairfax to give Derrick Taylor fourth City title

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PASADENA — The Taft boys basketball team was loaded with talent in the summer, highlighted by Giovanni Goree, Keyon Kensie and AJ Johnson. In June, local pundits and prep basketball gurus were pegging the Toreadors as the team to beat in the City Section.

It all changed so fast.

When the fall semester started, none of them were enrolled at Taft. Goree checked into Heritage Christian. Johnson and Kensie went to Donda Academy.

But that changed fast, too. Kensie checked back into Taft in November.

“When Keyon came back, winning a City title became a reality,” coach Derrick Taylor said. “We started so badly, but Keyon came back and the team bought in. They believed and I believed in them.”

The belief in one another helped to forge a season to remember and a City Section Open Division final victory over Fairfax, 64-62, at Pasadena City College Saturday night. It also gave Taylor his fourth career City title and first since 2011.

“It’s been more than a decade,” Taylor said laughing. “But it’s good. I’m happy. I’m happy for the kids.”

Adam Grissom #24 of Taft celebrates wearing the net after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bishop Brooks #0 of Taft shoots against Fairfax in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Darius Carr #2 of Fairfax walks away as Taft celebrates after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Taft bench reacts after teammate Bishop Brooks #0 of Taft scores against Fairfax in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Derrick Hill #22 of Taft ;loses the ball against Fairfax in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Adam Grissom #24 of Taft celebrates with teammates after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Souljah Niles #34 of Taft passes against Fairfax in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Keyon Kensie Jr #3 of Taft slam-dunks over Nile Ebi of Fairfax in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

#2 of Taft shoots against Romello McRae #25 of Fairfax in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Souljah Niles #34 of Taft is mobbed by teammates after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Derrick Hill #22 of Taft celebrates with teammate Adam Grissom #24 of Taft after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)Derrick Hill #22 of Taft celebrates with teMMATE F

Souljah Niles #34 of Taft is mobbed by teammates after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Derrick Hill #22 of Taft celebrates after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Derrick Hill #22 of Taft celebrates as head coach Derrick Taylor of Taft holds up the championship plaque after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Keyon Kensie Jr #3 of Taft wearing the net celebrates after defeating Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bishop Brooks #0 of Taft shoots against Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Keyon Kensie Jr #3 of Taft drives to the basket against Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Keyon Kensie Jr #3 of Taft shoots against Romello McRae #25 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gilad Ziegel #12 of Taft drives to the basket against Darius Carr #2 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Adam Grissom #24 of Taft drives to the basket against Nile Ebi #33 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Derrick Hill #22 of Taft rebounds against Nile Ebi #33 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Souljah Niles #34 of Taft drives to the basket against Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Jamal Hartwell of Fairfax reacts against Taft in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Romello McRae #25 of Fairfax walks toward the baseline after Taft defeated Fairfax 64-62 to win the City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Jamal Hartwell of Fairfax rects after a call in the second half of a City Section Open Division boys championship against Taft at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gilad Ziegel #12 of Taft reaches for the rebound against Nile Ebi #33 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Souljah Niles #34 of Taft drives to the basket Romello McRae #25 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Mason Johnson #14 of Fairfax rebounds over Derrick Hill #22 of Taft in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Keyon Kensie Jr #3 of Taft drives to the basket against Romello McRae #25 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Adam Grissom #24 of Taft shoots against Mason Johnson #14 of Fairfax in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Mason Johnson #14 of Fairfax rebounds over Derrick Hill #22 of Taft in the first half of a City Section Open Division boys championship at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Kensie, the 6-foot-7 dynamic senior wing, led the Toreadors with 21 points.

“Coach always reminded me that I was welcome back,” Kensie said of his decision to come back to Taft. “He helped me a lot during that transition.”

Kensie added: “I’m glad we got him another ring.”

Kensie was on the bench when Taft made a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter to create a 51-44 lead. Taylor, contemplating what to do with his best player on the bench while his team was performing well, decided to put Kensie back in the game. Kensie knocked down a wing 3-pointer the first time he touched the ball to give the Toreadors a 58-48 lead with three minutes to play.

“I wanted to be out on the floor, but I was proud of my team for staying locked in,” Kensie said. “When I did check back in, I made sure to bring the same energy the team was playing with.”

Derrick Taylor. A City champ again pic.twitter.com/2XVSjqR9d2

— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) February 26, 2023

Fairfax came storming back to create a nail-biting situation with 3.4 seconds left. Carr attempted a game-wining 3-pointer from the top of the key, but a great defensive effort and shot contest from Souljah Niles forced a miss as the buzzer sounded.

The celebration ensued. When Derrick Taylor’s name boomed from the speakers and into the arena during the championship ceremony, the Taft faithful cheered. The coach who’d reached 500 career wins on Feb. 1 was a City champion once again.

“We started 1-6 and I told them we still had a chance. They started to believe and get better,” Taylor said.

Taylor has now won City titles in 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2023.

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