High school basketball: Oak Forest’s Janae Kent a red-hot prospect headed to LSU

Basketball is pretty much a family business for the Kents.

Dad Jason played at Ohio and the University of Charleston, mom Anna played at West Virginia. Their son Jayson starred at Oak Forest and is at Indiana State after starting his own college career at Bradley.

So currentOak Forest senior Janae Kent was destined to follow in all those footsteps, right?

Not exactly.

“I used to hate basketball,” she said. “I told my family, ‘I’m going to be a cheerleader. Basketball is my brother’s sport.'”

But that phase came and went. Kent played volleyball and ran track in middle school. But by seventh grade, she was playing travel basketball.

Now she’s the No. 1 senior in Illinois, and ranked No. 46 in the nation, according to the espnW/HoopGurlz rankings. A 6-1 wing, she is committed to Louisiana State.

The early exposure to the game — even if she wasn’t a fan initially — can only have helped her development.

Besides the coaching tips her parents offered, Kent always had gym access through her dad’s training business.

That’s a perk she’s put to good use, according to Oak Forest coach Jeff Kelly.

“She is a professional athlete when it comes to working out and training,” he said.

Her skills showed right away at the high-school level.

“I figured she’dbe a Power Five kid,” Kelly said. “She had nearly every school offer her.

“First game as a freshman, she scored 30. Second game, she scored 30 at the varsity level.”

Despite being limited to 13 games as a sophomore in the pandemic-shortened season, Kent already holds program scoring records for a game, season and career, and she’s second on the Oak Forest career lists for rebounds, three-pointers and field goals made.

As good as she was when she got to high school, Kelly has noticed big improvements since then.

“Her outside shot has come a long way,” he said. “She’s always been a really good shooter, but it’s consistent now. And just her overall game — from the end of last season to the summer, she was a different kid. In a matter of months, she improved that much. … Her ball-handling has improved, her court awareness.”

While Kent was working on her game, she also was working on her future.

LSU offered at the end of the pandemic season. But then the Tigers changed coaches, with Hall of Famer and three-time NCAA champ Kim Mulkey coming over from Baylor.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I would love to play for coach Mulkey at LSU,'” Kent said.

Now, that’s the plan. “She’s amazing,” Kent said of Mulkey. “People can say what they want about her. If you’re in her circle, you know her as a person.”

All the work Kent has put in has been to make sure she’s ready for the caliber of play in the Southeastern Conference. In the meantime, Kelly appreciates what having a top-50 national player means for the Bengals. It’s earned Oak Forest invitations to eliteshootouts and tournaments.

And Kent has sharpened her teammates’ games as well.

“To have a kid like that on my team, it’s like having another coach on the court,” Kelly said.

And one who’s all about basketball now, unlike those early days.

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