North Central (Indianapolis) forward Kris Wilkes wasn’t the most-talked about basketball player in his state before the season, but there’s little question he’s earned his honors this season.
On Wednesday, the McDonald’s All American Hometown Heroes presented by American Family Insurance went to by North Central and presented Wilkes with his honorary game jersey for the McDonald’s All American Game, scheduled for March 29 in Chicago.
“The highlight was definitely getting the jersey and the hat and doing my speech and getting to mix with my players and family,” Wilkes said. “I didn’t know I would have to give a speech until I first got here today. It was about 20 to 30 minutes to write it, so it wasn’t that bad.”
On Tuesday, Wilkes, a 6-8 senior forward, put up 34 points to help his team defeat Pendleton Heights (Pendleton) 69-58 in the Panthers’ regular-season finale. That’s the continuation of a trend for the UCLA signee, as he’s often come up with the biggest efforts in the biggest games.
In December, he scored 40 points in his team’s 79-68 defeat of Hamilton Southeastern (Fishers), a night later he put up 32 points to help lift North Central to an 84-60 defeat of New Albany, then unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state.
Midway through their 20-4 season, the Panthers hit a rough patch, losing three of four games.
“I think we kind of beat ourselves in those games we lost,” Wilkes said. “I think that will help us out, though. I would rather lose now than go into the tournament and lose. I think we figured ourselves out and hopefully will do good in this tournament.”
Wilkes has a strong shot of being named the state’s Mr. Basketball. A deep run in the state tournament wouldn’t hurt his chances. North Central opens the playoffs with a sectional game Tuesday against Lawrence Central (Indianapolis).
“I want to win state and secondly, I want to win Mr. Basketball,” Wilkes said. “I think the ultimate thing, going into the tournament can help me solidify Mr. Basketball. As long as we play as a team, like we did our first six games, I don’t think anybody else can beat us.”
When he heads to UCLA, Wilkes will be one of two players on the Bruins’ roster who played high school ball in Indiana, the other being New Mexico native Alex Olesinski, who played for La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.). But there were plenty of Hoosier connections for Wilkes, not the least of which is coach Steve Alford, who was the Indiana’s Mr. Basketball as a senior at New Castle Chrysler in 1983.
“I’ve liked Coach Alford for a while and when I went down there to visit, meeting the staff and seeing the campus, I could see it was somewhere I could call a second home,” Wilkes said.