Kris Wilkes has worn a No. 31 jersey since his elementary school days playing at the SportsZone on the west side. That No. 31 was for his favorite player, Reggie Miller.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wilkes, a 6-8 North Central (Indianapolis) star and one of the top senior basketball players in the country, chose the school where Miller’s No. 31 jersey is retired.
Wilkes announced his decision to attend UCLA on Sunday at North Central, choosing coach Steve Alford’s Bruins over Indiana and Illinois.
“When I went to Westwood, it felt like my second home,” said Wilkes, considered a front-runner to win IndyStar Mr. Basketball this season.
Wilkes’ announcement marked the end of a long recruitment that had included Indiana since the eighth grade. While some Hoosiers fans are sure to lament missing out on such a talented in-state recruit, Wilkes said it was more about what UCLA had to offer than what Indiana did not.
“Indiana was the first one there and I have a lot of love for them,” he said. “It just came down to where I could see myself and I could see myself at UCLA, trying to win it all. I hope that (Indiana fans) are still there, but if they don’t like me anymore, you are always going to have people who don’t particularly care for where you go.”
North Central coach Doug Mitchell said the “sky is the limit” for Wilkes, who averaged 22.3 points and 5.6 rebounds as a junior and was named Marion County Player of the Year. Wilkes said one of the main reasons for choosing UCLA was the potential of making to the NBA “in a year or two.”
Wilkes, ranked No. 18 in the senior class in the 247sports.com national composite, joins a UCLA recruiting class that is No. 1 in the country by most recruiting services. Jaylen Hands (No. 28 nationally), Cody Riley (No. 35) and Jalen Hill (No. 60) are other top-100 recruits.
“There’s just not that many guys his size with that kind of explosiveness and that skill set,” Mitchell said of Wilkes. “As far as how far he wants to go on the next level and the next level beyond depends on the work he puts in. Kris is not afraid of work.”
Mitchell said he rarely talked recruiting with Wilkes, other than to emphasize three areas: where he wanted to live, the basketball situation at the schools he was considering and his education. Wilkes leaned on his parents for guidance but kept a mostly low profile during his recruitment despite his national status.
It was only after an official visit to UCLA in late September that he felt like he was comfortable with going that far from home. Wilkes took an official visit to Illinois earlier in September and took an official visit to Indiana the weekend after UCLA.
“My goal is to go to the next level after college,” he said. “With that, you know you’re going to travel around a lot, too. I put that into consideration with this decision. It was hard, but I think it was a good decision. Hopefully I can go there and develop and get ready for the next level.”
Alford, a New Castle native and former Indiana standout, is in his fourth season coaching at UCLA. The Bruins advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in his first two years, then dropped to 15-17 and 10th place in the Pac-12 Conference last season.
“I definitely like the style (of play) at UCLA,” Wilkes said. “They have open space, get up and down the court and score. I think that fits me well.”
With his decision set, Wilkes can focus on a senior season that could be special. Not only is Mr. Basketball a possibility, but North Central is considered one of the top contenders for a Class 4A state championship. Many of Wilkes’ teammates watched Sunday as the senior leader pulled on a UCLA hat and announced his decision.
“It’s time to go win state now,” Wilkes said.