College basketball coaches recruiting Jaylen Butz tell him they like his size, his ability to stretch the floor with his shot and his athleticism.
Two – Ball State’s James Whitford and Kent State’s Rob Senderoff – have already followed through with a scholarship offer for Butz, a 6-9 forward from Fort Wayne North Side in the 2017 class. Whitford and Senderoff were both courtside Friday at Best Choice Fieldhouse to watch Butz’s Spiece Indy Heat team play in the Best of the Midwest tournament.
Butz’s combination of size and talent makes him one of the more intriguing prospects in the state in the 2017 class. Indiana, IPFW, Michigan and Michigan State are other programs that have been in contact, Butz said. Butler and Purdue have also shown interest.
“I talked to Indiana (assistant coach Tim Buckley) before the tournament and he said they planned to watch me,” Butz said. “I talk to Buckley most of time. They offered my friend, (Fort Wayne Snider’s) Malik Williams, so they are talking to both of us.”
Butz transferred from Bishop Luers to North Side for his sophomore season, helping the Redskins to a 19-7 record. Butz went through a scary situation as a freshman when a collapsed lung sidelined him much of the year. At North Side, he averaged about 10 points and nine rebounds.
“We had three seniors that played a lot of minutes so coming in there and being able to start with those guys was a good experience,” he said. “We didn’t get out of our sectional, but things are looking good for us this year.”
North Side returns a solid junior class with Butz and guard Davontae Kinnie. Heralded freshman Keion Brooks Jr. is also expected to make an immediate impact.
Butz had an opportunity to battle last season against some of the best big men in the state in IndyStar Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan of Homestead and the 6-11 Williams.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I think I did OK. But I’m trying to prove how much I’ve grown as a player coming back from that injury. I know I need to work more on my ball handling and shooting.”
• It may seem hard to believe that Vijay Blackmon, younger brother of Indiana sophomore James Blackmon Jr., is already approaching his senior season at Marion.
Blackmon, a 6-1 guard, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last May but made a full recovery and didn’t miss a game as a junior at Marion. He averaged 21.3 points and was named first team Underclass All-State by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association.
“I want to be an Indiana All-Star,” Blackmon said of his personal goals for his senior year. “Hopefully we can win a state championship. Everyone is seniors now so we’re ready.”
Marion was 15-10 last year, falling to Logansport in the sectional. The Giants are playing in Class 3A this season, though, matched in the sectional with programs such as Hamilton Heights and Tipton.
Blackmon was offered by Indiana back in the fall of 2012. He has since picked up offers from Ball State and Morehead State. Ivy League programs like Cornell and Princeton have also been showing interest of late.
“I think I’m going to plan some visits after this weekend,” he said.
Blackmon said being around the Indiana program has helped show him what it takes to be a Division I basketball player. Vijay said he talks to his brother every day and also became close with Robert Johnson and former Hoosier Max Hoetzel.
“It takes a lot of work on and off the court,” he said. “You have to stay focused on your team and in the classroom. (James) told me it’s really different than high school. You have to get a lot stronger, play your game and be confident.”
Vijay said his brother “was close” to entering the NBA draft before deciding to come back.
“I just told him to do what he wanted,” Vijay said. “I know he wanted to come back and get some things done.”
• Northeastern guard Tyler Smith (2017) was recently offered by Ball State during an unofficial visit, adding to a list that also currently includes IUPUI.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.